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Jan 14, 2008

Supreme Court opens, C.J. cites excessive violent crimes

Story PictureThe colour and pageantry of the official opening of the Supreme Court is a highlight of the judicial calendar. But as News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports, this year’s event also brought out the fact that the Belizean society is becoming increasingly violent.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Sticking to tradition, this morning’s ceremonial opening of the 2008 legal year began with a mass, a parade to the Supreme Court and an inspection of the guard of honour.

But a new sight this year was the debut of a different look for the court. The Justices have shed their wigs and altered the ceremonial dress to a blue robe with red trim, accented by the coat of arms on the back flap. According to Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh, the colours are more nationalistic but overall, the change to more comfortable garb simply makes sense.

Dr. Abdulai Conteh, Chief Justice of Belize
“Now Belize has joined the ranks of the practical majority who believe that justice can be administered without the help of a wig.”

However, in his annual address to the legal community, Dr. Conteh maintained that despite the assistance of additional appointments to the bench, case work remains overwhelming.

Dr. Abdulai Conteh
“Belizean society has become increasingly litigious. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It might even be a healthy development, apart from overworked judges and stressed attorneys. Fortunately for Belize, the rule of law is still alive and well despite some bold effrontery and attempts to defy or negate it.”

And disturbingly, the bulk of cases before the court include an unprecedented rate of homicide and sexual offences.

Dr. Abdulai Conteh
“In 2007, ninety cases for murder were dealt with by the Supreme Court, this is unarguably, a most disturbing state of affairs. Murder as a crime is unacceptable in any society. And given the population and size of Belize, this is a most alarming and distressing figure: ninety cases to be tried in one year for murder. To compound this extremely worrisome situation, the police department in its comparative summary of serious crimes from January to December has informed me that there were ninety-seven murders reported in 2007.”

“Sexual crimes against females also present serious challenges to us as a society and more needs to be done to arrest this distressing and agonizing trend. A total of eighty-four sexual cases were dealt with by the Supreme Court. The police needs the assistance of the public in detecting and preventing crime just as much as the public needs the protection of the police from criminals.”

When it was his turn to speak, Attorney General Francis Fonseca echoed Chief Justice of Barbados David Simmons’ call for the ‘modernisation’ of the judiciary.

Francis Fonseca, Attorney General of Belize
“In many of our countries, crime and the fear of crime are seriously undermining the quality of life of our people. This disquieting phenomenon is contrary to our traditional values and culture.”

“Modernising involves less adjournments, introduction of case management in criminal cases, increased use of technology to record statements, less bureaucratic police procedures and a more professional prosecution service. With regards to sentencing, it is important to aim for consistency in the approach to sentencing because public confidence in the administration of justice must be maintained. Inconsistency in sentencing undermines public confidence and is in itself, a form of injustice.”

Fonseca went on to maintain that in 2007 through the Domestic Violence Act, there is better support and protection of abused women; that corruption is now an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act and that oil profits will be properly invested through the Petroleum Revenue Management Fund Act. The A.G. also reiterated his support for the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Francis Fonseca
“The court has the capacity to make an important contribution to the integration movement in the region and in the words of the Privy Council’s own Lord Huffman, to give to people of the Caribbean, the full benefit of what a final court of appeal can do to transform society.”

“My lords I give the assurances that the executive will continue to support the judiciary by supporting those measures aimed at strengthening the administration of justice in Belize.”

Following this morning’s ceremony, the court adjourned until nine Wednesday morning. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

If you would like to review the Annual Report of the Judiciary 2007, research copies are available at the Supreme Court Library and through the National Library Service.

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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