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Jun 20, 2008

C.C.J. team to convene discussion seminars in Belize City next week

Story PictureHe’s often quoted in this newscast but tonight we have a one and one interview with Chief Justice of Belize Dr. Abdulai Conteh. Conteh is part of the official hosting committee of a team from the Caribbean Court of Justice who will be in Belize next week. While in the country, the legal experts will highlight the benefits of the court as well as the impact of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy on Belizeans. This afternoon Conteh emphasised that the C.C.J. would substantially improve the delivery of justice.

Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh
“For example, if any dispute regarding the movement of goods or persons, professional establishment, the provisions of the treaty of Chaguaramas would require that the Belizeans courts, if they are seized of that matter, to refer it to the C.C.J. Our attorneys prepared for that. How I the public informed about that. This is all what the visitors meant, hopefully, to tease out. So that attorneys can get comfortable and know that there is this forum to which they can take relevant cases. The other aspects is of course, the troublesome one; the appellate jurisdiction; whether we would accept C.C.J. as the final court of appeal for Belize instead of, as we do now, proceed to the Privy Council. That is a political, I have little or no say in that but my inclination is that the C.C.J. is an excellent institution. Belize has paid up its contributions. Again, a fact that is not realised out there; most CARICOM member states have paid up. I save on the trust fund for the C.C.J. we manage the money to secure the integrity and independence of the court and its operations. We’re all paid so why not sign on. That would be my answer to that if you say should we join the CCJ or not.”

In related news, according to a release issued by the Belize Press Office, the impact of the C.S.M.E. was part of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s remarks to the attendees of the 2008 New York Conference on the Caribbean. Barrow maintained that “a larger internal market is necessary … in order to produce the great leap forward, C.S.M.E. must also be fuelled by foreign direct investment, by an influx of technical expertise and technology transfer; and by competitive access to external markets.”

But closer to home, today Chief Justice Conteh confirmed that the Belizean bench is still under tremendous pressure. For instance, in the upcoming criminal session of the Supreme Court, there are more than seventy cases before a single judge.

Abdulai Conteh
“I’m particularly worried about that aspect because those are criminal cases, nothing to do with civil cases. People are languishing in detention, people are on bail with all the restrictions that that would imply and they have not had their day in court whether they are guilty or not guilty because of the manpower situation. We have only one judge. If I had brought in the judge that had gone to the northern circuit; Corozal and Orange Walk for example, they would have no judge to preside over cases there. So for now because of what happened recently; one of judges is on his way to retirement. I don’t know what will eventually happen with that. We have only one judge sitting in the central district which covers as well, Belmopan; cases in Cayo come to the central district. So that explains seventy-two or seventy-nine for this upcoming session alone. It’s far, far too much to expect one judge to handle that.”

The judge that has reached retirement age is Justice Troadio Gonzalez. While Gonzalez is still writing judgments for the cases he presided over before he turned fifty-five, he is not able to hear any new trials. In addition to the C.J., the other members of the Supreme Court bench are Justices Michelle Arana, Minnett Hafiz-Bertran, Samuel Awich, Adolph Lucas, John Muria and Herbert Lord.

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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