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Government aims to correct deficiencies in criminal legislation for threats to and assaults on public officials

Posted: Monday, October 16, 2023. 12:36 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Government of Belize has introduced amendments to the Criminal Code and Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act to regularize the punishment for threats to and assaults on security personnel and public officials, including members of the press.

According to Minister of Education Francis Fonseca, who presented on behalf of Attorney General Anthony Sylvestre, the bills follow the recommendations of the National Security Council tabled in June concerning threats made to security personnel and state officials and the public concerns shared by public officers.

As part of the communities they serve, Fonseca said, security personnel, public officers, and public officials are easy targets for assault and abuse. But the laws at present only speak to threats against police officers (Section 38 of the Police Act) and not to members of the Belize Defence Force or Coast Guard, or members of the Immigration, Customs, Central Prison, and others.

Fonseca also cited inconsistencies in the treatment of judicial officers, ministers of religion, and others in the execution of their duties when threatened: “The Criminal Code, for example, regards a threat even a threat of death, as a misdemeanor. But if the same person were to commit that threat of death in writing, he is liable to five years. And even more puzzling – if a person uses actual violence on a judge, magistrate, juror, witness, counsel, agent, prosecutor, in any legal proceedings or inquiry with intent to deter him or her from acting in any manner or uses actual violence to deter a magistrate or peace officer from acting in execution of their duties, that person only commits a misdemeanor and is only liable to imprisonment for two years. Such inconsistencies in the penalty provisions need to be corrected. Similarly, in the Summary Jurisdiction Offenses Act, a threat to a person is considered a petty offense along the lines of washing an animal in the street or throwing things in a canal. The reality is that many security-related personnel, public officers, teachers, public officials, receive threats on a regular basis while performing their duties. So, there is a need to address this issue.”

The bills were read a first time and referred to the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee of the House.

 

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