A team from the London office of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, led by Lord Goldsmith QC, has advised the Human Dignity Trust (HDT), including acting as lead advocate before the Supreme Court of Belize, in a landmark victory which sees a law in Belize that disproportionately affects gay men ruled unconstitutional.
Brought by Caleb Orozco, Executive President of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNiBAM), the case challenged the constitutionality of section 53 of the Criminal Code of Belize, which effectively criminalized homosexuality. It states that “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years”. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that provision unlawful to the extent that it can be applied to same-sex activity.
In handing down the judgment, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin agreed that section 53 amounts to a violation of the constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, equality and non-discrimination on grounds of sex. He found that there was no justification in the form of “public morality” and therefore the law must be modified. He awarded costs to the claimant, Caleb Orozco.
Debevoise, assisted by local counsel in Belize (Godfrey Smith SC), acted for the HDT, together with the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), all of whom appeared as Interested Parties in the proceedings.
The team worked closely with Mr Orozco's legal representatives and brought expertise in international and comparative human rights law to the case
The Debevoise team represented the ICJ, CLA and HDT in a week long hearing before the Supreme Court of Belize, led by the firm’s chair of European and Asian litigation, Lord Goldsmith QC, as the lead advocate in the case alongside associates Nicola Leslie and Conway Blake. Debevoise has also provided pro bono advice on similar cases in Singapore and India.
The Belize case has the potential to set a critical precedent in the Caribbean and around the world. Homosexuality remains a criminal offence in all the countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
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