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Sep 18, 2017

Chiding Chief Justice, Bar Association Awaits Overdue Judgments

Kenneth Benjamin

Chief Justice of Belize Kenneth Benjamin has set a timeline to clear up the backlog of close to thirty overdue judgments on his desk. Reports to News Five are that the first two of those judgments were handed down today, with two more due on Friday and at the rate of two per week, the backlog should be clear by the Christmas break. But might it be too late?  On Friday evening, the Bar Association of Belize met in Belize City and unanimously passed a stern resolution resolving that if the Chief Justice does not comply with his schedule, he must resign in writing to the Governor-General, or risk a complaint for his removal with the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.  The Bar contends that the Chief Justice flirted with misbehavior in office by not affording litigants their right under the constitution to a fair hearing within a reasonable time, and that they have lost confidence in his ability to perform and discharge the functions of his office – trust that President Pricilla Banner admits will be difficult to get back.

 

Pricilla Banner

Pricilla Banner, President, Bar Association of Belize

“This decision was certainly two things: not lightly taken and not taken with the haste that that would seem to suggest. The Bar Association has been meeting with the honorable Chief Justice since 2014, both in formal and informal meetings, attempting to deal with judgments that were delayed. Recall that the judgments delayed – the ones that are on the list – are for the period up to 2015, and those judgments as at today’s date are outstanding for between two to five years. So it is not that the Bar Association has waited for those judgments to be outstanding for between two to five years; at the point we met in 2014, there were judgments at that time were outstanding for two years. [Even the Caribbean Court of Justice has said three years is an excessive delay.] The Privy Council has said that three to six months is reasonable but once you go beyond that, you have to think about the litigants, whom are entitled to have their matters dealt with in a reasonable amount of time. And going back to your direct question: that provides a schedule, but we also received a schedule in June of 2016, and that schedule concerned the very same twenty-eight judgments that are now outstanding. And that schedule said that those judgments would be delivered two per week. And the reason that the Bar had to very heavily decide this matter, and not with any fanfare – it was a very heavy thing to do – but the reason the Bar felt it necessary, is because that schedule, even with not the specific dates, it has been provided before.”

 

Reporter

“And not been adhered to before.”

 

Pricilla Banner

“And that is where the confidence issue comes in. If you say to us that these litigants would get relief within a certain time, and you are no less than the chief of the court, we must be able to have confidence that that statement will be complied with.”

 

Banner noted that in at least one case, a litigant has died without receiving judgment. Many more, she said, have been waiting an excessive amount of time, costing them money and loss of business or other considerations.

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