Private law firms and government affairs – the political wrangling continues

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Posted: Friday, June 3, 2022. 9:07 a.m. CST.

By Aaron Humes: Earlier this week, senior opposition senator Michael Peyrefitte wrote to Prime Minister John Briceño under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting a copy of the document in which Governor General Froyla Tzalam was informed that the government retained the legal services of Courtenay Coye LLP.

The named partners of this firm are Senior Solicitor and Foreign Secretary Senator Eamon Courtenay and Legal Partner Christopher Coye, Minister of State for Finance, although neither is currently practicing.

Peyrefitte told reporters earlier this week that the company’s name “continues to appear on court documents representing the government and from what we have heard they are also representing the government in cases that are not taken to court”.

The Prime Minister, in partial response, noted that the Governor General, Dame Froyla Tzalam, authorized the performance and Peyrefitte wants this document recorded, along with an account of what they were paid. In addition, he wants to know which other ministers have written to the Governor General asking permission for their firms and enterprises to be contracted by the government.

In response, the Prime Minister said on Thursday he would make the disclosure for Courtenay Coye, but was unaware of any other firm such as, for example, Barrow and Company of which lead solicitor Andrew Marshalleck is a senior partner .

The other part of the question is what happens to the lawyers in the Ministry of the Attorney General who, in theory, are supposed to defend cases on behalf of the government. The Prime Minister and others have publicly lamented that this group of young, enthusiastic lawyers must contend with very experienced lawyers, including the former Prime Minister, which puts them at a disadvantage.

It caused a stir in this ministry and with others, but the Prime Minister stuck to his guns in a final TV interview: “As I said, it’s not a question that there is an agreement, it does, and I’ll be brief on that because I’ve talked about this before, it’s just a matter that when we have a lot of these cases, we have to be able to have lawyers more experienced people who can help us with these cases A lot of the cases that we have from lawyers that we have in the attorney general’s department, and it’s not disrespectful to any of them, it’s just that we are dealing with very experienced lawyers who bring these cases against us so we need to make sure that we can get the best possible defense to be able to defend the interests of Belizeans We will make available the information on the sums that have been paid…”

Of course, he also noted that in the previous administration, members of the Barrow family and other intimates did the same and did not disclose their fees and connections. Peyrefitte replied that he would not be distracted and denied that any company or company he was affiliated with raised funds or entered into any contract with the government.

As for former Prime Minister Barrow, he clarified according to Channel 7 News that his cabinet was never retained by the government of Belize. Furthermore, he had no beneficial relationship with any business related to the family that was retained.

Meanwhile, the President of the Public Service Union (PSU), Dean Flowers, intervened saying that the years of study of lawyers within the Ministry of the Attorney General seem not to be respected: “These are young people who come back with great zeal, who just want a chance to shine. And, instead of giving them the opportunity to grow and shine and experience what it’s like to argue in court, we keep them at that junior level, locked in a room, so that we can then use that as an excuse for their inexperience as an excuse to spend Belizean money on our political law firms. The Prime Minister’s comments that legal advice is no good are downright disrespectful and, again, unbecoming of the Prime Minister.

Flowers believed that practicing in the courts is the best way to gain experience and grow, but the reverse is often true – high turnover in the department is due to not gaining that experience. and lawyers seek more money and exposure to the private bar.

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