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Nov 22, 2022

Following Collapsed Court Ceiling, Where Will Hearings be Held?

Today, normal court proceedings at the Public Building that houses all the Magistrates’ Courts, the cellblock, some of the Supreme Court chambers and offices had to be put on halt, following the continuous collapse of portions of the ceiling. The building had lost a significant portion of its roof on November second, when Hurricane Lisa passed through Belize City. Now with the structure uninhabitable, there is going to be a mad rush in the next few days to find another building large enough to house the courtrooms, as well as a cellblock, so as not to severely hinder the operations of the Magistrates Court. Marion Ali filed this report today.


Marion Ali, Reporting

The verdict is still out on when, and where, temporary court hearings can be held for the Belize City Magistrates’ Court after more breakage of the ceiling at the Public Building rendered the building unsafe to occupy. The roof was damaged during the passage of the recent hurricane and heavy rains over the weekend exacerbated the already compromised structure. Chief of Security at the Magistrate’s Court, Earl Parks was on duty this morning when the ceiling caved in.


Voice of: Earl Parks, Chief of Security, Magistrate’s Court

“Say ten past seven, the whole roof come down. That da right after when I come back from finish check the rest ah post them. I hear the piece ah cement deh from upstairs start to drop pahn the stairs right over deh right there. And from deh, the whole thing decide fi just tumble down from deh pahn the right hand side of the building when yoh turn this way. Yoh know, ih tumble down and it just collapse. The whole place collapse, the whole roof decide fi come down.”


Chief Magistrate, Sharon Fraser said the incident has forced the closure of the Magistrates’ courts indefinitely.


Sharon Fraser

Sharon Fraser, Chief Magistrate

“When we came here Monday, I met a courtroom where the entire ceiling, all the light fixtures, electrical stuff – everything was down – the place full with water and the mould, or the smell of the mould was just unbearable. So a decision was taken that I would close down that side of the building, which is the left side of this building.”


Marion Ali

“Which houses how many courtrooms?”


Sharon Fraser

“It houses four active courtrooms, there is a fifth room, but four active courts and the cellblock area.”


Freelance court reporter, Anita Nembhard has been working from the court building for the past twenty years. She told us that she has seen the degradation of the building without adequate restorative work placed on the historical structure.


Anita Nembhard, Freelance court reporter

“I’ve seen where the building needed more work and you know, I’ve given my comments about it and suggestions, that better needs to be done because it’s a historic building. I have been telling my kids about this building and the work that I’ve been doing out here and just looking at the building itself – people just pass just to take a picture so I’ve seen the years of deterioration with the building and what happened yesterday and again today in my view da something was bound to happen.”


While the damages are still being assessed, Fraser said there is going to have to be a difference in the way court proceedings are held for the time being.


Sharon Fraser

“We had indicated that we would do virtual hearings for those persons in the prison who matters are not set, and then for new matters, do physical arraignments or do virtual arraignments. So it would mean that persons would stay at Queen Street Police Station, they’ll set up a laptop, we’ll set up our computer system here and arraign them and then they will just come to do the paper works here. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about housing prisoners or anything like that. So when they bring them over it would simply have been just to sign and then they get their bail for those who are getting bail.”

While this will be the interim operation, Fraser says the search will begin on Wednesday for somewhere suitable to house the Magistrate’s court.


Sharon Fraser

“I will start tomorrow to see if we can start to look for somewhere, at very least, where we can house the four affected courts and maybe thereafter, look for somewhere where all of us – because once they start the repair on this building we can’t stay here.”


The collapsed ceiling has caused another setback for the court, which already has a backlog of cases to deal with.


Sharon Fraser

“We were quite on our way in addressing those cases – those old cases – so now this has really caused a real setback for me, another setback in trying to address dealing with these outstanding cases.”


The compromised roof and ceiling also brings into focus another issue. The building is where the Chief Justice’s speech and other speeches are presented at the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court calendar in January. That event will have to take place elsewhere, but the Chief Magistrate was hopeful that with this incident, a promised court building will be built on Chetumal Street.


Sharon Fraser

“Maybe Lisa is a blessing because this might very well be where consideration is given to putting that building at Chetumal Street. We had already been promised a location. I know that the second building to have been considered being built would have been that of the Magistrate’s Court.”


Marion Ali for News Five.

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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