It has been one week since the Prime Minister held his second quarterly press conference for 2011 and today the opposition, People’s United Party, came back with a briefing of its own, which was held at its Queen Street headquarters. But the primary focus of the event was the Prime Minister’s anti-crime initiatives that he presented last month. The initiatives deal with amendments to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, the Belize Constitution that pertains to preventative detention, the death penalty, anonymous and fearful witnesses, forced labour, trial without a jury, the indictable procedure, and the Supreme Court Judicature amendment. The three panelists, Deputy Party Leader, Francis Fonseca, Senator Lisa Shoman, and PUP attorney, Anthony Sylvestre, told the media that while the PUP supports some of the measures taken, there are quite a few more to which the party object.

Francis Fonseca – PUP Senior Deputy Party Leader
“The People’s United Party recognizes and appreciates that our nation, Belize, is faced with a crisis of crime and violence which deserves and demands our collective attention, commitment and sense of responsibility. Our position on the proposed crime legislation is grounded in this understanding and in our duty to Belizeans and our nation to ensure the protection and preservation of their fundamental rights and freedoms. It is a fundamental responsibility of a Government to ensure the safety and personal security of its citizens but repression cannot and should not be justified on a false promise of security. It is a the intention of the People’s United Party to participate fully and actively in the hearings and public consultations of the Constitution and Foreign Affairs House Committee of the House of Representatives and to engage our own members in a dialogue and discussion on these Bills. We intend to take a robust stand in the National Assembly, House and Senate in the debates which will be held on these laws.”

Senator Lisa Shoman
“This is the third in a series of Constitutional amendments which he has made since 2008 and not once has the Prime Minister bothered to consult with the people before making these amendments. His style has always been and it seems will always be to propose first and then to have to walk himself back from the position. In 2008 for instance when preventive detention was first floated under the 6th Constitution amendment bill, Barrow had to withdraw it because it was completely bad for Belize and Belizeans recognized it. Unfortunately this version is significantly worse; both in terms of length and scope and in its terrible application to both nationals and non nationals alike because forget the fact for a moment that citizens are going to be made subject to this, but also any visitor to our shores and any person who is here whether legally or illegally except if you have diplomatic immunity so that is one of the things that has to be understood. And not once has the Prime Minister bothered to consult either the general pubic or the Bar Association on these changes."

Anthony Sylvester – Legal Adviser, PUP
“It would seem to right thinking people that the rationale is that if you take away the jury system that there will be an increase in convictions of serious crime which includes murder and so on. As you rightly pointed out and for every Belizean who has been following or certainly who has been gripped by this crime tsunami we all realize that it is not as a consequence of the jury that there is this 3% conviction rate but it is actually the prosecution of the matters in court as well as the investigative and the preparation that goes into taking this matter at trial. As the Senior Deputy had outlined, the way forward that has been proposed by the People’s United Party, we have touched on that in addressing those areas of concern and those areas which seriously and which will actually will deal with the issues that we are faced with. We are faced with a very low conviction rate and there is no connection between the conviction rate and the jury system. What it does is it creates a false sense of security just as the proposed amendment for the imposition of the death penalty does, it presents a false sense of security to the Belizean public that if we dispose of this feature of our criminal justice system, that our criminal justice system will be better, that there will be an increase in conviction rate and that everything in Belize will be better and that is far from the truth.”