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Jul 27, 2011

ABA ROLI shows reform needed for police and civilian prosecutors

The Prosecutorial Reform Index (PRI) is the current in assessment tools developed by experts in criminal law reform at the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI).  And after months of dialogue with attorneys, judges, police officers, media, and stakeholders in the justice system, the ABA ROLI team, headed by its Country Director, Attorney Antoinette Moore along with a professor of criminal law compiled its report called the Prosecutorial Reform Index. Sixteen of the twenty eight measurement tools rated poorly for Belize. That came as no surprise, but according to those present, it simply shows the areas that need to be improved and those that are working properly. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

ABA ROLI set out to examine the status and role of prosecutors and the environment in which they work while assessing the system based on international and traditional standards. Jimmy Gurule, a former Assistant Attorney General and Under Secretary of Enforcement, confirmed what has been speculation.  There needs to be serious reform in cases tried by police and civilian prosecutors.

Jimmy Gurule

Jimmy Gurule, Professor of Criminal Law

“The prosecutorial system was evaluated based on twenty-eight factors that are international standards for determining the effectiveness of the prosecutorial system. And with respect to those twenty-eight factors, Belize received a positive with respect to four factors, a negative ranking with respect to sixteen and eight of the factors they received a neutral rating. The principal concerns involve the lack of training that is required for someone to work as a police prosecutor or civilian prosecutor. As you know those individuals are not trained lawyers but yet they have responsibility for cases in some instances carry substantial terms of imprisonment. For example; in drug trafficking cases, the defendant can be convicted and sentenced for up to ten years. The police prosecutor is not trained in the law, does not understand necessarily the rules of evidence, the rules of procedure, but that prosecutor may be going up against a trained criminal defense lawyer and as a result of the lack of training the defendant may be acquitted, may be released based upon the lack of legal training and understanding of the law by police prosecutor.”

And even if prosecutors are trained, many cases have fallen apart because witnesses to murder, contract amnesia at the time of trial.

Jimmy Gurule

“One of the other weaknesses has to do with the lack of procedures and programs to protect victims and witnesses of crimes. In many instances, serious crimes, cases involving serious felonies are dismissed because the witness refuses to testify or the victim refuses to testify because either the victim or the witness has been threatened with serious bodily harm if they continue to proceed with the case. So there needs to be procedures in place, there needs to be a witness protection program, there should be a victim/witness councilor who is responsible for keeping victim and the witness informed of the status of case, the process of the case, understanding the procedures to ensure that they testify at trial.”

Jacqueline Marshalleck, President, Bar Association

Jacqueline Marshalleck

“I think the principal weakness that was identified is the inability to secure convictions in relation to murder trials because of problems with witnesses fearing for their lives and for the lives of their families. It did raise issues pertaining to the prosecution in the Magistrate’s Court and police prosecutors. Those are issues that I think we have to treat with. In the short term as was indicated, we will need to better prepare our police prosecutors. We have an increase in jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Courts in terms of the penalties they impose in those courts and so the training is critical for them in the short term. In really long term, you have to move towards putting legal practitioners in the magistrate’s Court to perform those prosecutions.”

Jose Sanchez

“But you did find some positives?”

Jimmy Gurule

“There were some positives, absolutely. For example; the legal training required for crown prosecutors working in the DPP office, for prosecutors working in the financial intelligence unit, is of very high quality, it involves training in substantive law, procedure, skills training. So that was a positive. The relationship between prosecutors and the media is a positive finding. The relationship between prosecutors and the judiciary is another positive factor. So there are at least four positive factors, but there are several issues of major concern.”

Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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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1 Response for “ABA ROLI shows reform needed for police and civilian prosecutors”

  1. Justice says:

    First we neeed to examine how we recruit these individuals. sad to say but most people are a product of their environment and whilst some people change , the majority carry on their activities under legitimate guise. Check out their affiliations!

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