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Despite Opposition skepticism, House passes judicial overhaul bills

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2022. 6:56 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The House of Representatives has passed the Senior Courts Bill and related Belize Constitution (12th Amendment) Bill which proposes an overhaul of the current judicial system with new positions and a revised structure.

The new High Court and Court of Appeal will be presided over by the Chief Justice, with the President of the latter being the second-highest ranking member.

Minister of Education Francis Fonseca, on behalf of Attorney General Magali Marin-Young, explained that the Attorney General’s Ministry held relevant consultations with stakeholders in the judiciary and has also looked at the judiciaries of other countries before coming up with the proposed bill.

But Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow wants to know two things: how much will it cost, and how will it be funded?

He said, “This government has not taken seriously its promise to promise to properly fund the Judiciary. It was a part of their PlanBelize and they have not delivered on it, Madam Speaker. So, to understand what this reconfiguration means, it’s not as simple as having the now Chief Justice oversee all of the other courts. It costs. This has more of a demand on spending than our current configuration and if we can’t finance our current judiciary as it stands, how can we undertake to reconfigure when it will cost more than we are currently spending.”

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs, concurred, but insisted that that situation will change: “Thankfully we have records that when we come to this honorable house next year for our budget debate, I’m hoping that you give the same type of response when we increase the budget to allow for greater efficiency within our Judiciary.”

Fonseca, for his part, concluded the debate by saying that this is all part of the Government’s plan: “You have to start with a plan. You have to start with a structure and that is what this Senior Courts Bill achieves. It creates structure, it creates the plan for the efficient administration of justice in Belize – access to justice – that is right. We all agree that we obviously have to do more to allocate more funds for the Judiciary, we all agree on that point.”

The related 12th Amendment repeals and replaces that section of the Constitution dealing with the Judiciary, and requires a three-fourths majority in support, which the Government comfortably has. A division was called as required and the vote went 24 to 2 in favor.

Both pieces of legislation now move on to the Senate.


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