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Feb 26, 2021

In-Person Jury Trials Resume

Jury trials are being phased back in Dangriga in the Southern Judicial District. Justice Antoinette Moore presided over the first case where members of the public were empanelled to sit through a trial and to judge a man’s fate. For the past year, criminal trials have been conducted with only the Supreme Court Judges presiding over them because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions against crowd gatherings.  Even before the numbers of COVID infections and related deaths began to drop as they have over the past several weeks, planning and preparation had begun to hold jury trials.  Courtrooms across the country are being retrofitted, similarly to the House of Representatives, to now accommodate jurors in enclosures and meet the safety protocols that have been put in place. All courtrooms are outfitted with protective dividers with plexiglass at the docks, counsel tables, and the jury seats.  Physical spacing has also been factored into the measures.  Because the courtrooms are limited in size, empanelling the jurors is done in a separate area.  This is an exemption that the Supreme Court has secured from the Minister of Health and Wellness to ensure that the process follows the safety guidelines for all.  After the Southern District session ends, the next jurisdiction to hold jury trials will be Belmopan.  The COVID pandemic was responsible for suspension of court matters at all levels of the judiciary and the magistracy for much of 2020, compounding the already strained justice system with a serious backlog.  At the Magistrate’s level in Belize City, the operations had to be closed down twice for two-week durations when members of the Police Prosecutions Branch were diagnosed with COVID-19 on one occasion and a second time when again, personnel from the Registry were diagnosed with the virus.

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