The government has appointed a new Chief Justice in the person of Guyanese national Hon. Justice Louise Esther Blenman, but Opposition Leader Hon. Moses "Shyne" Barrow has objected saying that the position should have gone to acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana.
Barrow criticized the decision on Thursday, saying, “We find it an injustice and terrible failure in discharge of duty, that P.M. Briceño feels it necessary to appoint a Foreign National over our Nation’s equally, if not more so capable, indigenous Garifuna woman who has been acting with distinction as Chief Justice for the past two years and served with equal distinction as Justice of the Supreme Court for 14 years."
Barrow added, "This decision is a setback for indigenous and equal rights; a setback for every hardworking Belizean that no matter how much they toil we have a Prime Minister and Government that thinks you lack talent with nowhere to go but under the subjugation of a foreign national.”
The Government responded with a statement late Thursday afternoon, explaining that it had received no application from a Belizean national among eight applicants when the post of Chief Justice was advertised earlier this year on the Belize Supreme Court's website and through the Commonwealth Secretariat.
According to the government's release, the Attorney General then asked the Bar Association to appoint an interview panel of senior counsels. This panel interviewed the eight applicants and reported on the interviews and the vetting of the applications. This review panel recommended Hon. Justice Blenman based on her qualifications and experience.
The Government’s statement elaborated on Justice Blenman’s qualifications. It highlighted that she served on the bench in several CARICOM jurisdictions and as a High Court judge for nine years and a Justice of Appeal for 10 years. The release highlighted that she had graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1986 with a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B.) with Upper Second Class Honours, and obtained her Legal Education Certificate from the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad in 1988. She was called to the Bar in Guyana, in 1988. She has also achieved a Master of Law Degree (LL.M.) with merit from the University of London.
Justice Arana has been acting Chief Justice since April 2020 when former Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin retired in March of that year.
The government's statement goes on to say that Arana shall remain as Acting Chief Justice until the appointment of a new Chief Justice is confirmed, after which she will be elevated to serve as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
“Under the Senior Courts Bill that was recently tabled in the National Assembly earlier this month, the restructured office of the Chief Justice is expected to be the judicial leader for both the Supreme Court of Belize and the Court of Appeal.”