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May 15, 2019

A Prison Courthouse to Connect Inmates to the Judiciary

A new courthouse was inaugurated this morning at the Belize Central Prison where inmates will now be able to connect directly with the Supreme Court and the magistrate’s court from behind prison walls.  The initiative was funded by the U.S. government to the tune of roughly three hundred and eighty-seven thousand dollars and provides video linking equipment to facilitate teleconferencing.  On hand for the launch of the facility was Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, U.S. Charge d’Affaires Keith Gilges and Kolbe C.E.O. Virgilio Murillo.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A prison courthouse to be used as a facility to accommodate a video link system was handed over to the Government of Belize this morning by the United States Embassy.  Valued at approximately four hundred thousand U.S. dollars, the building, as well as the video link equipment, was entrusted to Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin and C.E.O. Virgilio Murillo of the Kolbe Foundation.


Keith Gilges

Keith Gilges, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy

“Our collaborative work in the justice sector in particular reaches far beyond the physical courtroom.  Our agenda is ambitious and I commend our Belizean partners for their tireless efforts and commitment to enhance the judiciary.  Together, we are working to improve accountability and transparency across the entire spectrum of justice and law enforcement initiatives.  Indeed, a strong, independent and efficient judiciary is the cornerstone of every democratic nation.  At the embassy, we have a dedicated criminal justice program team that works with our Belizean partners to build U.S. government supported programs that advance our mutual goals.  To that end we brought in four justice sector advisors to assist with your efforts to improve the efficacy and efficiency of your judicial process.  The criminal justice advisor at the Supreme Court is focused on case management.  The prosecution advisor is working to advance the professionalization of the police prosecution branch and other advisors helping the National Forensics and Science Service reach its international accreditation standards and the U.S Treasury advisors to assist in Belize‘s financial investigative unit to enhance its prosecutorial abilities.”


The building has two attorney rooms and three video conferencing courtrooms that are linked to four courtrooms in Belize City, two in the Supreme Court and two in the Magistrate Court.


Kenneth Benjamin

Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice

“It has become a not infrequent occurrence in courts in Belize City and indeed throughout Belize that they are stymied by the late attendance of persons on remand or by the failure altogether of the remandees to attend. This of course affects the efficiency of courts at both trial levels, Supreme Court and magistrate‘s court.  Indeed, as much as the responsibility falls upon the police department, one has to factor in the availability of vehicles, mechanical failure, as well as personnel demands.  Over everything, there is the attendant expense and obvious security exposure incurred daily.  In short, the video link will obviate or minimize the routine transportation of remandees to and from the central prison.  That was a no-brainer and of course when it was proposed it met with absolutely no opposition.”


The designated attorney rooms will provide defendants private access to legal defense before their proceedings.  The video link system will also reduce government’s economic burden and security risk of transporting defendants between the prison and the courts.


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation

“The facility, if you noticed just a while ago, there is some glass prospects or glass in the doors.  The purpose of that is that all meetings between attorneys and their clients must be in the sight but not the hearing of a prison officer.  So all of those requirements will continue to be met as far as we are aware because of the design of the attorney rooms.  So really, nothing really has changed.  I guess the only thing that will be a little bit different is that now the inmate does not necessarily need to go into Belize City anymore.  He can do that through video conferencing.  So that is really the biggest switch this entire process.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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