At Supreme Court opening, Judiciary discusses progress and problems

Posted: Monday, January 11th, 2016. 5:08 p.m. CST

court in sessionBy Aaron Humes: In his main address at today’s ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court in Belize City, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin spoke of many advances for the Judiciary in 2015, in everything from technology to court environment, despite the judiciary’s portion of the budget only going up slightly.

But in the all-important area of criminal justice, things stayed much the same: more than 400 on remand, nearly 200 awaiting trial, and a couple dozen behind bars for at least 5 years. On the outside, the court has to deal with reluctant witnesses, numerous challenges to evidence and other stumbling blocks.

In 2015, the Chief Justice identified a number of reforms as key to reversing this course. As the court starts its new legal year, many of those reforms – such as implementation of Criminal Procedure Rules, Guidelines on Treatment of Witnesses and Prisoners, and Sentencing Guidelines – are either just now going into place or are being developed for implementation.

The Court welcomes back Senior Counsel and human rights advocate Antoinette Moore as a permanent judge in the Criminal Jurisdiction, stabilizing the court’s complement at nine including the Chief Justice, and in the Magistracy three new magistrates were appointed to replace three departing ones, with Patricia Arana appointed as Senior Magistrate for the southern districts.

The Court has opened a child-friendly approved court in Punta Gorda Town and has plans to build another in San Ignacio, but problems have developed with court space in Corozal.

Meanwhile, a bit of legal history was made today as two women addressed the Court at its ceremonial opening in their legal capacities. First came President of the Bar Association of Belize in her second term, Jacqueline Marshalleck, Senior Counsel, who refuted suggestions that this annual event is little more than a chance to show off, but rather about this branch of Government’s necessity to communicate with the public and show its accountability for its work.

Next was Attorney General Vanessa Retreage, who first stated that the Government would reconsider the allocation offered to the Judiciary for the coming fiscal year. She then discussed plans to improve legal aid for indigent defendants.

The A.G. also announced plans to release the latest revised edition of the Laws of Belize in the coming weeks.

Tuesday is the Court’s first full day of work.

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