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Oct 26, 2017

New Guidelines Introduced for Dealing with Sex Charges

The Caribbean’s judicial officers have for the past few months been consulting on an issue of region-wide importance. With an increase reported in sexually-based offences, particularly here in Belize in the cases of rape, unlawful sexual intercourse and similar offences, there are more persons left vulnerable and subject to stigma and discrimination, not to mention the humiliation of repeatedly telling their stories to obtain justice. As News Five found out at the launch this morning at the Radisson Hotel, the new guidelines convert legal practice to a victim-based stance – and turn that victim into a survivor. Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The number of cases involving sexual crimes committed in Belize is alarming.  Statistics over the last three years show that figures in the respective categories of attempted rape, rape, indecent assault and other related offences continue to fluctuate; however, the prevalence of such violations is disturbing.

 

Michelle Arana

Justice Michelle Arana, Supreme Court Judge

“In the annual report for 2014 to 2015, the number of cases lodged in the magistrate’s court for sexual offences in 2014 in Belize included, attempted rape – seven, carnal knowledge – fifty-nine, rape – seventy-six, indecent assault – twenty, unnatural crime – four, incest – ten and unlawful carnal knowledge – fifty-nine, for a total of two hundred and thirty-five sexual offence cases.”

 

Regrettably, a majority of those cases aren’t seen all the way through to completion.

 

Justice Michelle Arana

“Of those matters that do reach the justice system, many cases, unfortunately, do not make it through to completion as victims are often intimidated by the very idea of having to recount their experience, and in that process, relive the agony of the harrowing ordeal in court, before a group of strangers.”

 

In light of this information, the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening Project, an initiative funded by the Canadian government, has introduced a set of model guidelines for sexual offence cases within the Caribbean.

 

Judith Alpuche

Judith Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Development

“We’ve made less progress with the judiciary in terms of dealing with these issues, right Ms. Shaw.  In terms of moving to this more victim-centered approach, there have been champions in the judiciary, I must say people, judges, individuals, magistrates who have been great allies.  But I’m talking about from a systems perspective, it’s been a but more slow going, so I think that this is a really great day, and a really great effort in pushing us forward in providing us with the momentum, the frameworks that we need to push to the other level in terms of ensuring that we come at this from a victim-centered approach.”

 

The Caribbean Court of Justice has also been actively involved in putting together the manual.  Justice Michelle Arana, in conveying the message of Sir Dennis Byron in the introductory note of the guidelines, acknowledges what the goals are.

 

Justice Michelle Arana

“The aspiration expressed in the manual is that once the Caribbean region adopts these guidelines and implements them, this will lead to the following results as articulated by Sir Dennis Byron in the foreword to these guidelines.  It should lead to one: increased public confidence to the justice system as it relates to the handling of sexual assault cases.  Two: improve responses to survivors that will enable full participation in the justice system.  Increase offender accountability and reduce secondary victimization.  Three: ensure a trained and skilled cadre of cross-sectional professionals, including judges, court personnel, police and attorneys to efficiently respond to sexual assault cases, survivors and witnesses. And four: speedy adjudication of cases and reduction of backlog overtime.  These guidelines represent the culmination of tremendous concerted efforts of jurists.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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