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Acting Chief Justice opens legal year

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2022. 8:11 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The 2022 legal year was opened remotely for the second consecutive year with a series of speeches by leading legal eagles.

Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana noted that though the Judiciary was considered equal in status to the Legislature and Executive, its budgetary allocation was a minuscule 0.00824 percent of the national budget, and was reduced by 1.5 million dollars from the previous year.

“This is woefully inadequate. While the Judiciary is fully cognizant of the need for cost-cutting measures, especially in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that this arm of Government be funded in a manner that enables and empowers us to carry out our duties in an effective manner. An overburdened, under-resourced and underfunded Judiciary is not conducive to the effective and efficient administration of justice,” the Acting Chief Justice stated.

Exhibit A is in the staffing of the Judiciary and Magistracy. Chief Magistrate Sharon Frazer has had to rotate current magistrates among several courts and Corozal and Toledo went months without one. Five new Magistrates from Belize, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have been appointed to the Bench.

The Supreme Court bid farewell to one-year judge Westmin James, but has been able to keep Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman as a tenured judge, and this year four others have been appointed with wide levels of experience in Canada, the Eastern Caribbean and elsewhere for one year each.

For 2021, 1,143 new claims were filed in the Civil Division and 601 cases disposed of. In the Criminal Division, 70 cases were disposed of and 81 new indictments were filed. 355 persons remain on remand for various crimes, of which 187 await trial for murder.

In the Court of Appeal, three new justices were appointed from July 2021, joining Acting President Minnet Hafiz-Bertram, while it bid farewell to long-time Justices Murrio Ducille and Lennox Campbell and prepares to do so to Justice of Appeal Samuel Awich, who previously served as a Supreme Court judge and Acting Chief Justice.

The Judiciary has had to revamp its dispensation of justices due to COVID-19, adapting its practices and making use of digital development. Notably, all Court Justices are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Belize’s Judiciary is participating in the creation of a Criminal Law Bench Book with the support of Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) judge Peter Jamadar and assistance of long-time now retired Supreme Court Justice Adolph Lucas.

The Chief Justice called for a similar book on the emergent area of cyber-crime. Practice directions are being created in the next few days to address forms of address before the court, sentence indicator guidelines and virtual arraignment of persons before the court.

The Chief Justice mentioned the enrolling of Senior Counsel Lois Young in a book produced by the CCJ Academy of Law in 2020, and the retirement of Deputy Registrar of the Court, Edmund Pennill, who exited last year after an incredible 63 years of service at Regent and Treasury.

The Court looked forward to better conditions both physically and professionally and a year of greater achievements for the Judiciary.


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