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Nov 11, 2016

Chief Justice Laments Delay in Tackling Sexual Assault Cases

Kenneth Benjamin

During today’s Jurist Project meeting in Belize City, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin acknowledged a severe backlog in criminal cases and especially sexual assault cases in certain parts of the country. Despite the dispatch of Supreme Court Justice Antoinette Moore to sit in Belmopan and Denis Hanomansingh to Dangriga, the number of cases is at a recent high, and many victims have been waiting for too long. The Chief Justice shared the details.

 

Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice of Belize

“We observe that in both the summary jurisdiction as well as in the Supreme Court, that there were a total of nineteen people on remand for sexual offenses: eight of them for unlawful carnal knowledge; one attempted rape; seven for sexual assault; two for unnatural crime; and one for abetting unlawful carnal knowledge. But that may not sound like a large number; that’s because sexual offenses are amenable to bail. So, let us look at something a little more startling, and I draw your attention to the Southern Session of the Supreme Court, which sits in Dangriga and covers the districts of Toledo and Stann Creek. In September 2016 there were fifty-three cases before that court. And of those, thirty-nine of those cases were sexual offenses. There is a problem in the Southern District. And the problem may be acute in the Southern District, but it is not confined to the Southern District. We know for a fact that in Belmopan for instance, I had recent sight of a list of priority cases. And the comments made by Justice Moore are very informative. I’m going to draw from two cases, two sexual offences. One was attempted rape; the virtual complainant was sixteen at the time of the offence. In September 2016, that complainant was twenty-two years of age. In a case of attempted carnal knowledge, the virtual complainant was twelve at the time of the incident; and in September 2016, was then eighteen years old.”

 

The Chief Justice noted that a judge sitting in Belmopan in the past had travelled to Dangriga for one month to do cases there because at the time the number was low. The Supreme Court of Belize, for context, sits in three jurisdictions: Northern, covering Corozal and Orange Walk; Central, for Belize and Cayo Districts; and Southern, for Stann Creek and Toledo. The Belize District, being the center of the population, has traditionally seen the most cases, but there is now in effect a “Western District”, based in the national capital, just to handle the burgeoning numbers of criminal cases from the Cayo District alone. While the Central District sits practically year-round except for mandated court holidays in August and after Christmas, the other districts generally meet only to cover cases on the docket at the time. 

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