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Dec 14, 2011

Trial without Jury there, but not quite here

Dean Barrow

Trial by judge alone, otherwise known as trial without jury, was first introduced for constitutional amendment in the House of Representatives on May thirteenth. It was presented as a means to curb crime by protecting the identity of witnesses and allowing admission of testimonies into evidence without their presence in the courtroom. With the Barrow Administration easily commanding three-fourths majority, or twenty-four of the thirty-one seats in the House, passage of the legislation on August first was seamless. Persons charged before the legislation were tried before a jury.  And cases such as the sensational month-long trial of five men accused of killing twenty year old Randy Coye in October 2009 was heard by a panel of jurors.  P.M. Barrow during the House Meeting in mid-May gave reasons why the new law was necessary.

Dean Barrow [File: May 13th, 2011]

“To provide for the anonymity of witnesses and the admission of witness statements into evidence at a criminal trial to ensure the safety of witnesses to provide for trial without a jury in certain cases in criminal proceedings. To clarify the provisions regarding the imposition and execution of the death sentence for capital offences and to provide for matters connect therewith or incidental thereto. Mister Speaker, since the proposed Belize Constitution Eight Amendment Bill 2011 introduces some sea changes with respect to traditional fundamental rights. I believe it is important even at this introductory stage to describe for the public and of course the members of the House the key features of the bill. It is a traditional sacrosanct right that if you are accused of something, you should be able to face your accuser, you should be able to face anybody who is going to testify against you. And so this is a fundamental change Mister Speaker and we are well aware of that. But then again we fool ourselves if we don’t accept that witnesses don’t come forward especially with respect to gang-related shootings and gang-related murders because they are told that if they say anything, they too will be murdered. It has happened, it’s not a matter of talking, it’s not a matter of idle threats, it has happened and it has happened on several occasions. So if we are going to be able to get the evidence that will allow us to secure convictions, especially in the case of gang-related murders, we need a provision such as this one.”

Some prominent criminal lawyers weighed in on the Juries (Amendment) Act, arguing that the practice of trial without jury would create opportunity for false statements to be entered as evidence simply based on malice. When we checked in with the Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, she confirmed that in the January session of the Supreme Court, the judge alone will be hearing cases of murder, attempted murder, abetment to murder or conspiracy to commit murder. One high profile case to be heard without a jury is the double murders of Daniel Puerto and Ian Martinez which occurred in early February for which two Belize City men stand accused. It is the first time that non-jury trials will be carried out in Belize. The law also allows the prosecution to apply for trial without a jury where there is a danger of tampering, if trial is likely to be burdensome to the jury or where an accused person believes that because of pre-trial publicity, he is unlikely to have a fair trial.

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4 Responses for “Trial without Jury there, but not quite here”

  1. bze says:

    The barrow admin is nothing to play with

  2. CEO says:

    THIS IS A GOOD MOVE AND IF DONE WELL CAN BE VERY EFFECTIVE, BUT THERE IS THE POITENTIAL FOR ABUSE AND HERE LIES THE DANGER.

    PEOPLE WHO ARE TRUE WITNESSES CAN GIVE SPECIFIC DETAILS THAT ANY OTHER PERSON CANNOT GIVE AND SO IT CAN BE VERY EFFECTIVE. WHAT SHOULD ACOMPANY THIS NEW LAW IS ANYONE WHO BEARS FALSE WITNESS SHOULD ALSO BE PUNISHED SEVERELY.

  3. islander says:

    This is going to send a lot of innocent people to jail…

    The same way the current firearm laws are sending countless numbers of students and people who are in the same house as where a firearm or single bullet was found… IT SCARES ME TO CATCH A TAXI IN BELIZE CITY BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW IF THE TAXI DRIVER MIGHT HAVE AN ILLEGAL GUN OR A BULLET SOMEWHERE IN HIS TAXI…

    Foolish laws that in my opinion have an end to scare the public into submission…. submission to a leader or a master… ALL THIS LAWS PUT TOGETHER ARE SERIOUSLY MAKING US INTO A DICTATORSHIP…

  4. islander says:

    What happens in the case where a man was forced to use deadly force to defend himself and the judge hearing the case does not believe in self defense? THIS IS SOME SERIOUS $#!%!

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