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Jan 13, 2020

Legal Year 2020-2021 Declared Open

The traditional opening of the Supreme Court took place as scheduled this morning.  Members of the Judiciary were in full force as they made their way to the courtroom following a ceremony at Saint John’s Cathedral; but the Executive of the Bar Association and its President, Cheryl-Lyn Vidal, did not attend boycotting the event due to vexing issues with the Supreme Court.  The Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin gave an overview of the work of the court and it was left for the Foreign Minister, Wilfred Elrington, to address the event on behalf of the Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte. Here is Hipolito Novelo with a report.


Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

The new Law Year was today declared officially opened by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin during the traditional ceremony held every year. Members of the legal fraternity made their way to the Supreme Court building in downtown Belize City where CJ Benjamin expected the rank and file of the Belize Police Department as they stood at attention. From there, members of the Bench and bar filled the court room of the Chief Justice where the legal year 2019 would be reviewed. Under normal circumstances, revision of the previous year’s successes and failures would be made by three individuals: The Chief Justice, President of the Bar Association and the Attorney General. Executive members of the Bar boycotted the session for a number of reasons including delayed judgments by the Chief Justice. As for Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte, stepping in for him for the second year in a row was Foreign Minister, Wilfred Elrington.


Wilfred Elrington

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“He said that he had other engagements which it difficult if not impossible for me to attend. He asked me to represent him as early as last week Tuesday.  The question of outstanding judgments is a long one. And it seems to be that has happened largely because we have not kept up with the change that have taken places over the year because certainly in places like the United States the chief justice certainly I don’t think have the obligation to do judicial work and administrative work. Even those who have only judicial work have interns who help then to prepare their judgment so they can give them in a timely manner. I think it is high time now that Belize employ interns to assist the judge in the preparation of their judgment so they can be well researched and delivered in a timely manner.”


One of the constant constraints of the judicial system is budgetary allocation. Of the national budget, for the fiscal year 2018-2019, ten point six million dollars was allocated to the judiciary. The amount for fiscal year 2019-2020 reduced to less than nine million dollars


Kenneth Benjamin

Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice of Belize

“The present fiscal year is being funded by an allocation of eight million, nine hundred and seventy six thousand three hundred and eighty seven dollars. Although the numerical reduction appears to be significantly reduced, it must be born in mind that the cost center from the Vital Statistic Unit has been removed from that of the general registry. Therefore the percentage of the national budget remains steady at zero point nine five percent.”


Wilfred Elrington

“The Vital Statistic Unit saw tremendous improvement in 2019. Overall the Vital Statistic Unit has seen an increased in staffing which has resulted in the provision of a more efficient and effective service. To date, late registration of births and deaths are up to the date. Deep polls are up to date and corrections to personal documents are up to date. All documents that are pending are awaiting for the submission of documents from the applicants in order to be approved and finalized.”


In 2019 more than one thousand four hundred proceedings were commenced, including three hundred and ninety two divorces. This yielded more than two hundred and thirty thousand dollars in revenue for the judiciary. There are, however, many cases to be dealt with for 2020. According to CJ Benjamin, the work of the judges of the criminal division has been very heartening when the disposal numbers are viewed.


Kenneth Benjamin

“In Belize City, sitting in the Belize District, and ninety four cases were disposed of in one court with a list of forty-four case awaiting trial in 2020. Also in Belize City, a further twenty-five cases were concluded leaving a list of a hundred and eighty cases traversed to January 2020.  In the northern session. twenty -three cases were disposed off and there remain forty-three pending cases. In the central district in Belmopan, the list stands at ninety-one pending cases however notwithstanding an epic trial lasting over a period of six months thirty seven cases were disposed of. In the southern session, forty one cases were disposed of in Dangriga and five cases in Punta Gorda. The pending cases stand at twenty-seven and eight for Dangriga and Punta Gorda respectively.”


Wilfred Elrington

“Via the Litigation Unit three hundred and ninety seven contracts were vetted by the Attorney General’s ministry in the last judicial year. The Unit litigated in approximately seventy Supreme Court claims, nine civil appeals and two Caribbean Court of Justice appeals. Their performance has been commendable. The Belize Legal Aid and Services Centre facilitated over two hundred consultations and approximately one hundred and fifty civivl and criminal cases in the Magistrate’s court, Supreme Court and Family Court. Further the LASC collaborated with UNICEF to represent minors who came in conflict with the law. I am pleased to report that all of those cases were dismissed.”


The judiciary is also focusing on reducing the number of inmates who have been on remand for several years. There are still twenty-two inmates on remand in excess of four years.


Kenneth Benjamin

“In as much as this represent an improvement over the number of sixty in 2018  it still remains twenty-two persons too many. It is the target of the criminal division that such lengthy remands will be further reduced in 2020.”


The number of pending cases is also expected to be further reduced in 2020 and with at least five judges departing from the Bench., the Chief Justice today made call for attorneys to render their services.


Kenneth Benjamin

“Honorable Madam Shona Griffith has tendered her resignation to his Excellency the Governor General to take effect from the thirty first of January 2020.   In the course of 2020, three justices and myself will detain the retirement age of sixty-five. The process of succession lies within the province of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission and the Honorable Prime Minister with the constraints of the constitution and is being addressed.   The compliment of magistrates remains below the required amount notwithstanding an advertisement to fill vacancies. So once again I issue a call to all attorneys at law to offer their services.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

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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