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Marty Offline
As is the custom in the third week of every new year, the Supreme Court holds a special sitting to mark the beginning of the new court session. This year’s sitting was convened by Acting Chief Justice, Samuel Awich. In his address the Acting Chief Justice highlighted the activities of the past year, one of them being the replacement of the Privy Council by the Caribbean Court of Justice on November 29th 2010.

Samuel Awich – Acting Chief Justice

“Ladies and gentlemen it is my guess that there are those even now who would prefer to go to the Privy Council. There must be a minority and I think their wish is a matter of nostalgia for the past rather than logic and good sense. I learnt that to instruct a barrister in England to take up overseas appeal to the Privy Council cost the equivalent BZ $250,000.00 to $300,000.00 deposit and that was not the full fees. At the cost it was obvious that the appearance from Belize in civil cases at the Privy Council were merely a handful and one might say that Belize departed from the Privy Council before being forced to leave. There are certainly tangible and practical advantages in Belize joining the Caribbean Court of Justice. The main and immediate one is of course the cost of final appeal cases would be much lower and appearance would be able to attend courts at the hearing of their final appeal right here in Belize City or in Port of Spain, Trinidad. A less tangible advantage is that in the long term case law will develop in the Caribbean based on local circumstances. The Bridgetown agreement refers to this advantage as a development of Caribbean jurisprudence through judicial process.”

The acting chief justice also spoke on the surge in crime in the past year.

Samuel Awich – Acting Chief Justice

“The most worrisome occurrence in 2010 was of general concern to the judiciary and the general populace; it was the surge in crime and violence. Most troubling about it was that the perpetrators of crime and violence became comfortably daring. Very many times they attacked and killed in broad daylight in the view of many people. Once a killing took place within the presence of one of our court and in October last year an attorney and his wife were killed in their house which was in a gate up area. Earlier in the year a very senior and respected attorney was shot and gravely injured while leaving his office. It is by the grace of God that he has recovered and resumed his duties, we all pray for him. Many other innocent people were similarly brutalized in 2010. The number of reported homicide in 2010 is 132, and that is still high for the population of Belize. Despite the surge in violence the public kept hope and the authorities showed determination to bring the surge in crime down. Religious leaders, civic leaders, the business community, school teachers and even school pupils came out to show their disapproval of criminal activities. The executive of the Bar Association was a late comer to the array of people who voiced their disapproval but better late than never. The Bar is certainly better suited than many to assist the fight against crime should they wish, maybe we will hear from them.”


#397684 - 01/19/11 09:38 AM Re: CEREMONIAL OPENING OF SUPREME COURT HELD [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Supreme Court opens with pomp and circumstance

The judiciary and members of the legal community were out in full force and regalia this morning for the traditional opening of the Supreme Court. The Acting Chief Justice Samuel Awich reflected on the number of cases and the rise in crime last year while the President of the Bar sought a commitment for the efficient disposal of cases. Today’s proceedings started with an invocation at St John’s Cathedral. News Five’s Isani Cayetano, picks up the court’s opening as the procession made its way to the Supreme Court.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The procession of members of the judiciary led by Acting Chief Justice Samuel Awich along Regent Street this morning followed closely the marching band at its front as it made its way to the Supreme Court building across from Battlefield Park. There an inspection of the guard of honor was conducted to complete pomp and circumstance. The exercise was part of the itinerary to mark the commencement of the Supreme Court session for the new legal year.

While today’s activities ushered in the schedule of cases to be heard for 2011 Acting Chief Justice Awich reflected on the number of cases presented before the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal last year including those that were elevated to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Samuel Longole Awich, Acting Chief Justice

Samuel Longole Awich

“A few months after joining the full jurisdiction of the CCJ we have already had one appeal case heard by the CCJ. Two others are in the process. In 2010 in the Court of Appeal twenty-one criminal case appeals and forty-four civil case appeals were registered. Twenty-five criminal cases, criminal appeal cases and sixty civil case appeals were concluded. The number of cases concluded included cases registered in previous years. Completed appeal cases compared to registered appeal cases were eighty-five point seven percent and ninety-six point six percent respectively. These are very high rates of completion.”

Despite the fact that the judiciary was efficient in trying both civil and criminal matters last year president of the Bar Association, Jacquelyn Marshalleck reiterated the fact that judgment for cases should be prompt.

Jacquelyn Marshalleck

Jacquelyn Marshalleck, President, Bar Association

“A commitment to give one hundred percent to your chosen field to improve the operations of the Supreme Court Registry so that our courtrooms are actively and efficiently disposing of cases throughout the course of the entire workday can make a perceptible difference. Ensuring that decisions can be delivered within three months of the conclusion of any hearing and that those decisions are rendered fairly and impartially in accordance with the judicial oath would definitely improve the fate of our people in our judicial system.”

The number of murder cases for 2010 were also at a record high, significantly increasing its future workload.

Samuel Longole Awich

“The most worrisome occurrence of 2010 was of a general concern to the judiciary and the general populace. It was the surge in crimes of violence, most troubling about it was that the perpetrators of crimes of violence became comfortably daring. Very many times they attacked and killed in broad daylight in the view of many people. One such killing took place within the presence of one of our courts.”

Taking time to formally welcome fellow attorney Rodwell Williams back to the courtroom after falling victim to gun violence last year was Attorney General B.Q. Pitts.

B.Q. Pitts

B.Q. Pitts, Attorney General

“Before I start I wish and I know from the bottom of your hearts you’re joined with me in saying welcome and for the further recovery of the health of our brother Rodwell Williams who is here with us and probably quite stronger than most of us, myself included.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

#397685 - 01/19/11 09:40 AM Re: CEREMONIAL OPENING OF SUPREME COURT HELD [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Acting CJ Throws Glancing Blows At Ceremonial Opening Of Supreme Court

The ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court was held today in Belize City. The event was attended by the usual pageantry and the crackle of stiffly starched black robes processing through the major streets.

But while it may look the same, this year is different because the Court is transitioning out of a year a year of epic changes and approaching another which will see a new Chief Justice and a new final court of Appeal.

And acting Chief Justice Samuel Awich looked like he had some baggage to get rid of before welcoming the new, speaking out on the retirement of his predecessor, which the Bar Association called unseemly.

We'll get to that, but we begin, as always with the ceremony…Here's Andrea Polanco's report.

Andrea Polanco Reporting
The official opening ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year of the Supreme Court of Belize was held today. The day started off at 9 this morning with an ecumenical service at the St John's Anglican Cathedral on Albert Street with. Officiators of the service included Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops along with representatives of Presbyterian Church, Salvation Army and the Muslim Community.

Following the brief church service, a procession of the of the Bench & Bar led by the marching band left the Cathedral enroute to the Supreme Court off Albert Street through Regent Street. Upon Arriving at the Supreme Court, after the arrival of the Judges, the Acting Chief Justice Sam Lungole Awich did the traditional inspection of the guard of honor as members of the Bar, the Governor General Sir Colville Young and a small crowd of bystanders looked on. After the General Salute, the procession assembled in the Chief Justice's Court Room.

Tasked with the responsibility to convene this special sitting of the court this year, acting Chief Justice Sam Lungole Awich said that the year 2010 was one marked with significant events pivotal to the Judiciary, particularly Belize joining the CCJ:

Sam Lungole Awich-Acting Chief Justice
"Caribbean Court of Justice Act completed the divestment of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, of the jurisdiction of final appeal over Belize cases. The historic process commenced with an agreement styled, "An Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice", signed by "member states of "the Caribbean Community", on 14.2.2001, at Bridgetown, Barbados. Pursuant to the agreement, the House of Representatives and the Senate of Belize this year, amended the Constitution of Belize by removing the Privy Council from the apex of the rank of courts in Belize, and replaced it with the Caribbean Court of Justice. On the ground, the CCJ became a reality for Belize when on 29.11.2010, the Court heard the first final appeal case from Belize. Those who are nostalgic about the past have something to retain. The practice has developed whereby clients and attorneys in Belize have been able to instruct barristers practicing in England to represent them in the courts of Belize even-though there is no reciprocal arrangement for Belizean attorneys not qualified in England to represent clients in courts in England."

Awich said that while leaving the Privy Council wasn't universally embraced, other major changes also took place in the personnel of the Superior Courts with appointments and retirements of magistrates and Justices of the Supreme Court. One particular change was that of the retirement of Former Chief Justice, Abdulai Conteh, which was announced last year.

Sam Lungole Awich-Acting Chief Justice
"You may remember that some members of the Bar Association of Belize and some section of the press made much about the retirement of Chief Justice Conteh. Judges of the Supreme Court did not share their views. Since we were not consulted in private we maintained silence as is the tradition of judiciaries all around the World. The fact was that, it had been confirmed to Chief Justice Conteh about eleven months before his retirement date, that his tenure would not be extended beyond retirement age. There was nothing unconstitutional about that."

But while more personnel were recruited with the hope to strengthen the justice system, crime remained a problem through-out 2010 and Awich said that it hit home for them and while the public spoke out on the issue, the executive of the Bar was a bit late:

Sam Lungole Awich-Acting Chief Justice
"In October, an attorney and his wife were killed in their house which was in a built up area. Earlier in the year a very senior and respected attorney was shot and gravely injured while leaving his office. Many other innocent people were similarly brutalized in 2010. The number of reported homicide in 2010 is 132. That is too high for the population of Belize. The Executive of the Bar Association of Belize was a late comer to the array of people who voiced their disapproval, but better late than never. The Bar is certainly better suited than many to assist in the fight against crime should they wish. Maybe we will hear from them. They could assist with investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, and with training of personnel."

The President of the Bar Association Jackie Mashalleck in her address said that while popular belief is that the legal system is broken thy are not of that view, but instead recognize that they are numerous daily challenges that they face.

Jackie Marshalleck, Bar President
"I like many persons seated in this courtroom today am aware that present that the opinion and perception of some members of the public is that our legal system is broken. We have heard the calls for vigilantism. I was disturbed to read in one newspaper that a senior counsel had been quoted as saying that the system is broken. We members of the Bar Association in general do not for one minute subscribe to this view. We are willing to concede that the system is currently under great stress and facing some of its greatest challenges ever. In 2010 we experienced an alarming increase in the crime rate and an increase in the number of civil claims. This unfortunate state of affairs was set up against an embattled police force, a court system operating without its full complement of judges and magistrates from time to time, and an office of public persecutions with its own challenges and the judicial system with a budget allocation severely curtailed by economic recession."

The Acting Chief Justice also presented the Court's report card, which he said showed that the rates of cases concluded last year compared to the number registered, were very high. The Court of Appeal showed very high percentages with 85.7% of completed appeal cases compared to 96.6% of registered appeal cases. In the General Magistrate Courts 13,655 criminal cases were registered and 11,350 concluded. 6,114 civil cases were registered, and 4,620 were concluded. Awich said that to maintain these rates of completion, it is important to keep vacancies in the judiciary filled.

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