Brief Overview of the Results
The 2011 Prosecutorial Reform Index (PRI) for Belize reflects a challenging environment for the prosecution function. As illustrated in the Table of Factor Correlations, Belize scored positively on only four of the twenty-eight PRI factors (Selection Without Discrimination, Freedom of Expression, Interaction with Judges, and Interaction with the Public/Media), indicating that the country’s legislative framework and practices in these areas substantially comply with relevant international standards. However, sixteen factors received a negative correlation, including at least one negative factor in all six sections of the PRI, indicating that there is still much work to be done in all areas of prosecutorial reform. The remaining eight factors all received a neutral correlation.http://apps.americanbar.org/rol/publications/belize_prosecutorial_reform_index_03_2011.pdf
Positive Aspects Identified in the 2011 Belize PRI
• University-level legal education is required for Crown Prosecutors who work for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and prosecutors working in the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). The legal education received at the University of the West Indies and Norman Manley Law School is comprehensive, substantive, and requires students to take ethics and trial advocacy skills courses.
• Prosecutors are selected to work in Belize without discrimination based on ethnicity, race, or gender. Persons of different ethnic groups from various countries in the region are employed as prosecutors, including at senior supervisory levels. Further, women are regularly employed to work as Crown Prosecutors and police prosecutors.
• Prosecutors are subject to well-developed and equitable disciplinary procedures under the authority of the General Legal Council. Any complaints of ethical misconduct by prosecutors are submitted to the Council, which conducts a hearing and submits its findings and recommendations to the Chief Justice for further action.
• Prosecutors have a professional and respectful relationship with judges. Further, prosecutors are respectful of the independence and impartiality of judges. There were no reported incidents of prosecutors influencing or attempting to influence any judicial decision or ruling.
• Public prosecutors have a positive relationship with the media. Laws and regulations prohibit public officials from making unauthorized disclosures of confidential information to the public or the media. Prosecutors refrain from making comments to the media that might prejudice the accused in a pending case.
Major Concerns Identified in the 2011 Belize PRI
• Police and civilian prosecutors are responsible for prosecuting offenses that carry substantial terms of imprisonment upon conviction. However, they receive inadequate legal training before being assigned to work as a prosecutor in magistrate court. Police prosecutors often appear in court without having received any legal training. Civilian prosecutors are only required to attend a paralegal course. Further, public prosecutors in Belize, including Crown Prosecutors and prosecutors working in the Financial Intelligence Unit office, are not required to receive any continuing legal education.
￼• The rights of the accused are not adequately protected in criminal proceedings. Indigent defendants are entitled to court-appointed counsel only in capital cases. In all other cases, such defendants are required to appear in court without the assistance of legal counsel. Further, prosecutors generally do not exclude illegally obtained evidence, deferring that responsibility to the court. Trial adjournments attributable to police investigators and public prosecutors often deprive the accused of the right to have his case decided within a reasonable time.
• Protecting victims and witnesses from threats of serious bodily harm and acts of violence is a serious problem in Belize. However, there is no witness protection program or witness protection unit within the Police Department to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses. Further, there are no statutes or regulations that explicitly address the rights of victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors are also not afforded any training on the rights and needs of victims.
• There is a general lack of public confidence in the integrity of law enforcement. Police officers are underpaid and have low morale, making them vulnerable to bribery and other forms of public corruption. However, the prosecution of police officers and public officials for fraud, bribery, and other forms of public corruption is rare. No special unit within the Police Department is assigned responsibility for investigating public corruption. There are also no prosecutors responsible for prosecuting public corruption cases.
• Police prosecutors have a conflict of interest. They are employed by the Police Department and dependent on the Department for their continued employment and promotion. At a minimum, such relationship undermines the public’s confidence in the independence and impartiality of the prosecutorial system and creates the perception that police prosecutors are merely an extension of the police.
• Prosecutors do not perform their functions expeditiously. There is no computerized case filing and tracking system to assist prosecutors in tracking cases, court proceedings, defendants, and witnesses. Further, Crown Prosecutors do not provide direct oversight or regularly consult with police officers during the criminal investigation. The lack of adequate supervision often results in improper charges being filed by police investigators. Crown Prosecutors also find that the initial investigation was inadequate, requiring additional police investigation that often results in an adjournment of the trial date.
• The DPP’s office is inadequately funded and lacks the resources needed to properly and effectively perform the work of the office. Police prosecutors and civilian prosecutors also lack the resources needed to effectively perform their prosecutorial functions. Crown Prosecutors are not adequately compensated, making it difficult to recruit experienced lawyers to work in the DPP’s office. Also, the low compensation contributes to a high turnover rate in the office. Police prosecutors are compensated at the same pay schedule as police officers. Thus, there is no financial incentive to become a police prosecutor. Civilian prosecutors are also not adequately compensated.