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Sep 6, 2002

Privy Council amendment laid before House

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This morning, members of the House of Representatives met in Belmopan for a special sitting. While some politicians were notably absent, other members were back in familiar form. Business on the table ranged from a contract renewal for the Ombudsman to a bill changing the way gun licenses are issued to security guards, but the attention grabber was the proposed Belize Constitution Amendment Bill 2002 which would in specific types of cases, do away with the Privy Council as Belize’s appellate court of last resort.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“The objects of the bill are essentially three fold. First, it removes from the jurisdiction of the Privy Council certain categories of murders termed as Class A in the criminal code of Belize. Class A murders include murder committed in the course of theft, murder by shooting, murder committed in the course of resisting or avoiding arrest, or attempting to escape from lawful arrest, and murder of a police officer or prison officer, acting in the execution of his or her duty. The effect of this is that the Belize Court of Appeal shall be the final appellate court for Belize in respect of appeals for persons convicted of Class A murders.

“Second, it makes clear that certain acts of the state are not inconsistent with or in contravention or the constitutional protection against inhuman or degrading treatment. Specifically, neither the imposition nor the execution of the death sentence, nor any delay in the execution of the death sentence, nor the prison conditions under which persons facing the death penalty are held, shall be held to be in contravention of the constitutional safeguard against inhuman or degrading treatment.

“Third, the bill empowers the National Assembly to enact legislation establishing a final Court of Appeal higher than the Belize Court of Appeals, to determine appeals in respect of persons convicted of Class A murders or to declared that the Caribbean Court of Justice–when it is operational–to be the such final appellate court.

“We in the Caribbean have been witnessing a growing public outcry against the decisions of the Privy Council as these relate to the death penalty and those persons convicted of murder. There is the growing feeling among states in the Caribbean that certainly in relation to the murders and death penalty issue, our courts?that is the courts physically located in our region–are better able to understand the social issues, attitudes and ethos that impact on the law’s evolution than her Majesty’s Privy Council in England.”

The decision for Caribbean countries to remove the Privy Council as the final court of appeal comes after the Attornies General of CARICOM published a document entitled “Measures to Restore Confidence in the Criminal Justice System.” Belize’s constitutional amendment comes on the heels of a similar move by Barbados.


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