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Sandhill mother and daughter win constitutional rights case in the High Court for speedy trial

Posted: Monday, October 30, 2023. 9:49 pm CST.

Photo Credit: Channel 5 News

By Aaron Humes: While declining for now to permanently stay a case of dangerous harm against a mother and daughter of Sandhill, Belize District that has not been tried for more than ten years, High Court Justice Patricia Farnese has ruled that the pair had their right under the Constitution (Section 6(2)) to have their charges heard on time was breached.

Irene Budd, Ormencia Pou, and a third person, a son and brother who has since been deemed unfit to be tried owing to his mental state, were charged with the attempted murder of Gilbert Blair in September of 2011 and offered bail weeks later. Following a preliminary inquiry, they were committed for trial in 2013 before the charge was amended in 2014.

A combination of the women’s original attorney dying and their being unable to find new counsel and delays caused by several changes in the judicial assignment of the case has resulted in the case languishing in the courts as their attorney Orson Elrington explained: “[The judge] ruled in favour of my clients to say that indeed their constitutional right had been breached. However, she said that only under extreme circumstances, where it can be proven that it would be impossible to have a fair trial at all, would there be a permanent stay of the proceedings and so she denied that part of our application to have it permanently stayed.”

The court said that now that a judge has been assigned and the accused have legal counsel, the trial must be heard and concluded within a year of this judgment (handed down on October 20), or it would be permanently stayed. In the court’s judgment Justice Farnese commented, “At the time this claim was filed, over 11 years had elapsed since their arrest. And while I find that 13 months of that delay is attributable to the claimants, 4 years of delay are the result of judicial vacancies…Judicial vacancies are not exceptional circumstances that would justify the inordinate delay.”

The court denied the permanent stay after finding that Pou and Budd had not been able to properly show that their circumstances were such that the case could not be heard at all – the severing of the third defendant and the delay which was at least in part their fault does not qualify. Further, she ruled against damages for the pair given that the trial is at least set to start; however, she awarded them costs in the claim.

Appearing for the Attorney General’s Ministry were Crown Counsels Agassi Finnegan and Israel Alpuche.

 

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