By Aaron Humes: In previous years relegated to a brief note in the opening address of the Chief Justice, for the first time the Chief Magistrate and Director of the Family Court, respectively Sharon Frazer and Dale Cayetano, addressed this year’s opening of the Supreme Court.
Chief Magistrate Frazer noted the loss of several Magistrates due to retirement and resignation, which added challenges on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, though welcomed back former Chief Magistrate Margaret McKenzie to the ranks. The court has had to rotate its staff and magistrates to deal with the increased number of persons having to attend court for various breaches of COVID-19 regulations.
There have been changes to the administration of justice due to the pandemic including the use of video links between the court and the prison.
For the Family Court, which deals with matters of child delinquency, maintenance, and family disputes, Director Cayetano acknowledged a backlog of cases in both Belize City and Punta Gorda due to the antiquated filing system and a lack of data, made worse by a vacancy of a magistrate for the latter.
More than 2,000 cases were handled in 2021, a reduction from 2019 and 2020, though there was an increase in child maintenance cases. But there were delays in child protection and custody cases due to delays in home visits by social workers and non-appearance of persons due to being unvaccinated.
Nonetheless, the Family Court remains committed to its task of providing justice among families and is looking forward to new premises in western Belize City and more space for its job as the youngest of Belize’s courts dating back to the 1990s.