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Jan 12, 2015

Supreme Court Opens With New Optimism

The traditional opening of the Supreme Court was held this morning in Belize City with all the usual pageantry and ceremony that are attached to the event. After a service at Wesley Church, the attorneys and judiciary moved over to the Supreme Court for the speeches that look at the state of affairs in the system. While there has been some improvement in the meting out of judgements and legislation awaiting the nod for witness’ protection, there is still a long list of issues that affects the delivery of justice. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The ceremonial launch of the 2015 legal calendar, including the traditional opening of the Supreme Court, complete with a brief procession led by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, was held this morning in Belize City.  Following an ecumenical service at Wesley Methodist Church, the congregation, members of the judiciary and bar mostly, made its way on foot to the courthouse adjacent to Battlefield Park where Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin would inspect the guard of honor.

 

Next they gathered inside the CJ’s chamber where presentations were made by President of the Bar Association of Belize Eamon Courtenay, Attorney General Wilfred Elrington, as well as the Chief Justice himself.

 

Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice

“Protection of witnesses.  A draft Protection of Witnesses Bill awaits cabinet approval. This legislation will address the plight of vulnerable witnesses and will provide protective measures for such witnesses and for children when giving evidence.  The object is to reduce the intimidatory nature of criminal proceedings.  Measures will include the rendering of witnesses anonymous by order of court in rare, deserving cases allowing witnesses to give evidence behind the screen via video link from a remote location and to be cross-examined after a pretrial recorded interview.”

 

Perhaps the most important bit of news coming from the bench, as mentioned earlier, is the safeguarding of persons involved with the justice system, including defendants and other clients, before, during and after a trial.

 

Kenneth Benjamin

Kenneth Benjamin

“This will require the procurement and installation of video link equipment.  For this a commitment has been given by the CARSI initiative of the United States Department of State.”

 

The conviction rate, over the years, has been negatively impacted by witness tampering in situations where intimidation or retaliation is expected.

 

Kenneth Benjamin

“The conviction rate for 2014 is not yet available; however, the systemic problems remain and are the subject of reform.  In the capital cases the assignment of counsel for unrepresented accused continues to be a challenge.  Mindful of the seriousness of the offense, more junior counsel are being assigned.  Honorarium is indeed not comparable to regular counsels fees but as I’ve repeatedly said, this is a function of the pro bono obligation expected of every attorney-at-law practicing at the bar.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

Conversely, delay in the handing down of judgments remains a perennial issue.

 

Eamon Courtenay, President, Bar Association of Belize

“There has been noticeable improvement.  There has been an increase in the speed in the delivery of judgments; however, we would urge the court to continue to grapple with the backlog of judgments that remain outstanding.  Secondly, it is approaching one year that the General Legal Counsel has not met.  That is simply unacceptable.  Complaints continue to mount, complainants are becoming restless.  It is unacceptable that persons who are supposed to be served by attorneys-at-law file complaints and cannot get a hearing.  Your lordship the Chief Justice is now the chairman of the General Legal Counsel, since November we have elected the three persons who are to serve on the General Legal Counsel and we have so informed your lordship.  My lord, we urge you to call meetings of the General Legal Counsel at the earliest possible time so that the mountain of complaints can be dealt with.”

 

The surfeit of cases, as pointed out by the president of the bar, is of equal concern to government.  Despite an attempt to dispose of matters in a timely fashion, there is still an accumulation of cases which has created a ripple effect across society.

 

Wilfred Elrington

Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General

“We in government are naturally and particularly troubled by the backlog of cases for resolution both on the civil and criminal calendars of cases.  We fully subscribe to the view that justice delayed is justice denied and that delays and denials of justice can and do have on occasions catastrophic consequences for business enterprises large and small, for innocent prisoners who are made to languish in prison on remand for inordinate periods of time, for their loved ones and family membership who are forced to do without their companionship and support while they are incarcerated.  Delays in the resolution of cases also have the effect on practicing attorneys whose remunerations is more often than not contingent upon the conclusion of cases they argue before the courts and who, in most cases, have no ability and no other source of income.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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2 Responses for “Supreme Court Opens With New Optimism”

  1. Jason says:

    1% is a shame-imagine what can be done with 2%

  2. CEO says:

    Until the day comes when the Electorate has no more control of the Judiciary in Belize our court system will continue to be a Kangaroo court.

    Politics should never have any influence over the court!

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