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Jan 11, 2016

Supreme Court Opens With Traditional Pomp and Ceremony

The anticipated traditional and ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court took place this morning in a packed courtroom of the judiciary and other guests. Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin presided over the proceedings and provided a report on the 2015 legal calendar year.  The report card was gloomy: there is an increase in the remand population awaiting trial in the Supreme Court mostly for the offense of murder.  Twenty-seven inmates have been behind bars for more than five years and adjournments as well as a declining number of witnesses plague the justice system.  In this context, in her debut statement, the new Attorney General called for a review of the available financial and human resources and for reform. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A parade of judges, lawyers and other legal professionals across the judiciary, officially commenced the 2015 legal calendar earlier today.  Following a church service at the Holy Redeemer Cathedral, the congregation, proceeded to the steps of the Supreme Court Building.  There, the customary inspection of the guard of honor was conducted by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.

 

The ceremonial splendor, witnessed by primary school students and other passersby within the downtown area, preceded what can be described as a dismal report card for the 2015 schedule.

 

Kenneth Benjamin

Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Belize

“There’s been no change in the problems afflicting the criminal justice system.  The trial process remains plagued by adjournments, reluctant and recalcitrant witnesses and numerous voir dire hearings.  In addition, the number of attorneys practicing at the bar willing to do criminal cases continues to challenge the ability of the court to assign counsel in capital cases.  The necessity for criminal justice reform therefore remains an urgent issue.”

 

Chief Justice Benjamin’s statement was met with acknowledgement by newly appointed Attorney General Vanessa Retreage.  Indeed, additional fiscal resources need to be expended in order for the judiciary to function at an optimum.

 

Vanessa Retreage

Vanessa Retreage, Attorney General

“Any critical examination of our system must, in my view, focus on the financial and human resources, the legal framework within which we operate and the access to and ultimate attainment of justice.  I commence therefore, with a brief statement on the financial and human resources within our justice system.  Routinely, at each ceremonial opening, the attorney general confirms the government’s commitment of the necessary financial resources to the judiciary.  Well I must pause here to state my Lord that having listened to your address, it is time for us to reconsider what that allocation will be for the upcoming year.”

 

Paucity of financial resources aside, the past legal year has seen an increase in the number of inmates currently on pretrial detention, up from 2014.

 

Kenneth Benjamin

“As of December thirty-first, 2015, there are four hundred and three persons on remand at the Central Prison.  That is an increase over the remand population at the end of 2014.  Of that number, one hundred and eighty-six are awaiting trial in the Supreme Court predominantly for the offense of murder.  Twenty-seven persons have been on remand for over five years.  Compared to last year, the situation has worsened.”

 

While some issues, particularly problems affecting the criminal justice system have remained static, there are notable advancements in other areas of the judiciary, including mediation.

 

Kenneth Benjamin

“In the two years of its existence, it is fair to say that the mediation process has made its impact which can be measured in terms of the timely disposition of cases, the reduction of cases for trial, satisfaction of parties and the attendant reduced cost of litigation to parties.  The National Mediation Committee is now tasked with extending mediation to the magistrate’s court and the family court.”

 

Since coming into effect in 2014, mediation has to a certain extent relaxed the pressure on judicial resources, a fact that is accepted by the President of the Bar Association.

 

Jacqueline Marshalleck

Jacqueline Marshalleck, President, Belize Bar Association

“In partnership, we were able to progress the work of the mediation committee and we recognize the hard work of Mr. Justice Courtney Abel on this project and our own Mr. Nigel Ebanks.  We look forward to working with the bench on the family law reforms.  In 2016, in partnership, we will work with the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening Project, the JURIS Project, on its plans to improve the operations of the Supreme Court with particular focus on the inferior appeals process.  With the assistance of the court, the Bar Association will also embark in 2016 on an advocacy training project intended to improve court advocacy and etiquette for attorneys.  I say to my fellow attorneys, let us assure, ensure that in 2016 we extend to the court and to each other the courtesies and respect that are rightfully due.  This is a noble profession and any backward slide must be halted.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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1 Response for “Supreme Court Opens With Traditional Pomp and Ceremony”

  1. Rod says:

    What a joke lone duncy man the get paid big money letting all the murderers and rapist go but arresting the po man who thief wa piece a cheese to feed his children.

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