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#428091 - 01/17/12 02:13 PM Supreme Court Opens Under New CJ
Marty Online   happy
The Ceremonial Opening of the Supreme Court is one of the few events left that still projects a sense of old fashioned ceremony for its own sake.

It's held every year in January at the opening of the January session of the Supreme Court. This year, New Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin had his first go at it.

Daniel Ortiz reports on how it went:..

Daniel Ortiz reporting
This year's opening of the Supreme Court started at the Wesley Methodist Church on Albert Street, where Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys, legal luminaries and other functionaries of the justice system gathered for the ecumenical service.

From there it was on to the general procession of the Judges, Magistrates, and attorneys, an impressive march of about 75 persons.

They were led by the brisk musical pace of the Belize Defense Force marching band through Albert Street and Regent Street, where they finally finished at the Court House.

It is one of the few times of the year where the public actually gets to see these high ranking officials who are known only by names and by the judicial decisions which are handed down.

Children from several primary schools took advantage of the opportunity to view them in their robes.

From there, the event continued with the presentation of the Supreme Court Justices; each was escorted to his/her respective positions by the acting Commissioner of Police.

The Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, then descended the stairs of the seat of the judiciary.

From there he inspected the guard of honor, and then those gathered made their way up to his court room where the Chief Justice delivered his annual speech - the only time of the year cameras are allowed in the courtroom.

He discussed the difficulties currently facing the justice system.

According to Benjamin, Government allots only 1.08% of the National Budget to the judiciary, which is somewhat limited for the results required.

Kenneth Benjamin - Chief Justice
"The allocation of financial resources continues to be a constraining influence on the work and development of the Supreme Court. Indeed, the justice sector competes with the other critical areas of education, health, infrastructure, human and economic development and the all providing servicing of debt obligations."

"The approved allocation by central government to the judiciary during the fiscal year 2011 -2012 stands at $7,891,108 against a national budget of $729,553,334. The judiciary shares in 1.08% of the said national budget. This represents just a very slight increase over previous years. However, the projected demands I will outline in due course; a plea for a larger allocation would not be misplaced. The judiciary is charged with the constitutional responsibility of upholding the rule of law, and for the judiciary to fulfill this important mandate, adequate funding is of necessity - a requirement."

Due to the rise in the number of murder cases, the Chief Justice announced that he will be presiding over some of the cases in the interim.

Kenneth Benjamin - Chief Justice
"For a reason which will become apparent later on, the Chief Justice will be undertaking the hearing of certain criminal matters in the course of 2012 and perhaps beyond. The establishment makes provisions for additional judges to be appointed. This appointment will not be made in the coming year, and will be informed by the data that will emerge from a comprehensive statistical assessment of the case load and case disposal rate in both the criminal and civil divisions."

The Chief Justice also informed the gathering of the implementation of mediation services as a means to avoid the long and drawn-out process of a trial.

Kenneth Benjamin - Chief Justice
"The overriding objective of the Supreme Court civil procedure rules, mandates that the court must actively manage cases. Included among the powers given to a judge is the discretion [of] inappropriate cases to encourage the parties to embark upon a process of alternative dispute - resolution such as mediation. The rules go further to require the court to facilitate such procedures by accommodating deserving adjournments. Faithful to the rules, judges have been encouraging settlement discussions, and have [at] times assumed the role of informal mediator. In fulfillment of the purport and intent of the overriding objective, the time has come for the Supreme Court to adopt the multi-door approach to the resolution of disputes by offering to litigants mediation services under its hospices."

"For such an undertaking to be successful, the court must be vigilant in offering a process that is imbued with efficiency and integrity. Our ladyship madam, Justice Hafiz Bertram, has kindly consented to give up her invaluable time to shepherd the creation and implementation of [the] assistance of mediation. I am aware that our ladyship has been examining designs operative in other jurisdictions, and she will be a co-opting suitable personnel from the judiciary, the bar and from the community to assist in developing a structured approach to mediation that is consistent with the morals and societal demands of the litigating public in Belize."

He also touched on improving the output of the judiciary's webpage to inform the public in a timely manner on judgments.

Chief Justice Benjamin also mentioned that the amendment to the constitution, which allows for trial without jury, will come on board in this legal year.

Kenneth Benjamin - Chief Justice
"As of August 1st 2011 all new cases of murder related offences committed to trial after that date are trial-able by a Supreme Court judge sitting alone without a jury. Such trials are expected to commence during this term of the legal year. I've indicated to the judges of the criminal division that I will be sitting in that division to assist with the trials by a judge sitting without a jury. This type of trial upon indictment represents a significant departure from the previous standard of trial by jury. As a bi-cord of this development, it means that the emerging phenomenon of jury intimidation and timidity may well have been obviated."

In an effort to improve the expertise and knowledge of the bench, Chief Justice Benjamin announced the intention to implement a Judicial Education Body Development where Justice Arana will take the lead.

Kenneth Benjamin - Chief Justice
"It has become an undeniable fact that judicial education is indispensable to the competent administration of justice. In this regard, the high and low judiciary in Belize is in the somewhat disadvantageous position of not having a formal structure for the dispensing of programs for the training of judicial officers. It is therefore of high priority that a body task with judicial education be developed, oblate in initial stages on a volunteer basis. Our ladyship madam justice Arana is a fellow of the Common Wealth Judicial Education Institute, of which I have the honor of being a patron as well as a fellow. Justice Arana has been given the assignment of establishing a judicial education body for Belize."

Another bit of good news announced was that a new Magistrate's Court will be opened in Dangriga, which will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

He also mentioned that an annual report will be published in the weeks to come.

Channel 7


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#428097 - 01/17/12 02:20 PM Re: Supreme Court Opens Under New CJ [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Pomp and Circumstance; Supreme Court opens

The legal profession and judiciary were out in full regalia this morning for the traditional opening of the Supreme Court. With a new Chief Justice firmly on the bench, there was a different and much softer tone to the speeches this year. While it signals that relationships are on the mend, both bar and bench highlighted that the alarming crime rate has spiked the number of murder cases. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The ceremonial procession of the judiciary along Regent Street this morning, following an ecumenical service held at Wesley Church heralded a new legal year for the courts. The brief parade culminated at the steps of the Supreme Court Building. There, in full ritual splendor, the bar, magistracy and bench assembled before a small gathering near Battlefield Park. The inspection of the guard of honor was conducted soon thereafter before transferring the day’s activity to the Chief Justice’s chamber.

Inside the CJ gave his annual address touching on the issue of crime and violence and the need for the courts to dispense justice impartially.

Kenneth Benjamin

Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice

“Faced with an escalating crime rate it is not an option for the judiciary to proceed as if it is business as usual. Culturally there must be a well considered robust response which meets the expectations of the community while preserving the rights of the accused person as guaranteed by the law under the fundamental rights provisions of the constitution. Victims and families of victims of crime have the same right to justice as have the alleged perpetrators of crime.”

The bar association with its complement of lawyers together with the judiciary form an integral part of the justice system. Jointly they are responsible for fair and timely legal representation as well as the handing down of decisions. In her address, bar president Jacqueline Marshalleck spoke of an increase in the number of cases at the appellate level.

Jacqueline Marshalleck

Jacqueline Marshalleck, President, Belize Bar Association

“The bar has noted that more and more cases are being appealed to the Court of Appeal. You, yourself my Lord, noted that there were some seventy-eight cases filed last year on appeal. There is a need to carefully examine whether or not this increase is primarily due to a lack of confidence in the quality of decisions being delivered at the Supreme Court level or whether the number of claims filed in the Supreme Court have significantly increased so there are simply more appeals being taken in the normal course. Perhaps it’s a combination of these and other factors. Whatever the reason or reasons the number of matters that have been set down for appeal has swelled and there is pressure on our Court of Appeal to address the large numbers of appeals in a timely fashion. This matter needs to be addressed sooner rather than later if we wish to avoid a serious backlog in our appeals process.”

Conversely, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin went on to say that along with a spike in homicide cases comes a shortage of lawyers prepared to defend suspects at taxpayers’ expense.

Kenneth Benjamin

“The number of cases of murder has become a cause for alarm; however, the ability of the judges of the criminal division to try capital cases has been significantly hampered by the paucity of lawyers available to be assigned to represent the accused persons at the expense of the state. The consensus among the judges is that the tariff was set too low and hardly compensates counsel, in some cases, for even travel expenses, far less for accommodation expenses should the trial be in one of the outer districts northern or southern.”

The new legal year will also see the introduction of trial without jury. Despite initial discord over the subject, more specifically the contents of the 8th Amendment, the legal fraternity supports government’s introductory step to deal with the issue.

Jacqueline Marshalleck

“In relation to criminal matters, all of the stakeholders have to bring their A game. The police will have to conduct thorough investigations which are not wholly reliant on eyewitness testimony. Prosecutors have to prepare solid cases that will stand against seasoned defense counsel. 2012 will also usher in the era of trial by judge alone in certain indictable matters and so our judges will come under pressure to prepare a new form of judgment that will stand the test on appeal. In 2011 my Lord the government proposed certain amendments to the Constitution of Belize by way of the 8th Amendment Bill which were intended to address the problems of crime conducted by gangs and also witness protection. The Bar Association applauds the government for its initiative in seeking to address these issues even though we did not agree with some of the contents of the proposed amendments.”

For his part attorney general B.Q. Pitts spoke on behalf of government, reaffirming its position in addressing the perennial matter through legislative changes.

B.Q. Pitts, Attorney General

B.Q. Pitt

“This administration is not insensitive to the crime situation and has revisited it from time to time and introduced such legislation with a view to assisting in deterrence in commission of crimes. From my point of view Restore Belize with its many-pronged approach to the problem has been so far successful. It is an ongoing process which does take time and requisite patience. When last I addressed this gathering I referred to certain pieces of legislation which were aimed at addressing the crime situation.”

While there has been tension between the bench and the bar in the past there has also been noticeable improvement in the relationship shared.

Kenneth Benjamin

“Traditionally, the bar has always played the role of protector of the bench. Under our inherited system of law whenever the bench has come under attack the bar has come to its aid as a countermeasure to preserve the integrity of the judicial system. This symbiosis has long been in place and ought to be alive today as it has been in times gone by. It is on this note that the Bench/Bar Committee will be fully activated in 2012. In this regard the bench will continue its role in ensuring the viability of the practice of law for all attorneys at law who are prepared to abide by the established ethical standards.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Aside from a new Chief Justice, the new Chief Magistrate, Ann Marie Smith, also made her first appearance at the opening of the January session.

Channel 5


New year brings ideas things for Belize’s Judiciary

Belize’s new legal year opened on Monday, January 16, and the new year brings with it several new developments for the judiciary, including the anticipated commencement of trials without jury.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, who assumed the post late last year, said, “I’ve indicated to the judges of the criminal division that I will ... assist with the trials by a judge sitting without a jury.

“This type of trial upon indictment represents a significant departure from the previous standard of trial by jury. As a bi-cord of this development, it means that the emerging phenomenon of jury intimidation and timidity may well have been obviated.”

In addition, Justice Benjamin noted that although there are nine Supreme Court judges, there is still room for more judges to be appointed. That, however, will not be done this year.

He said that he will begin to hear certain criminal cases begining in this session of the court and that will continue indifinitely.

The court would also be looking at implementing a mediation approach to handling some civil cases, he added.

Madam Justice Hafiz Bertram will be looking at mediation designs in other jurisdictions and will work closely with the Bar Association and the community in developing a structured mediation approach.

He also explained that Belize’s judicial officers are at a disadvantage when it comes to judicial education. Therefore, the establishment of a body tasked with judicial education will be considered as a top priority.

“Our ladyship Madam Justice Arana ... has been given the assignment of establishing a judicial education body for Belize.”

Justice Benjamin announced that there will also be a new Magistrate’s Court for the Dangriga jurisdiction. The new court will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Chief Justice Benjamin has also stressed the need for more funds to be allocated to the judiciary.

“The approved allocation by central government to the judiciary during the fiscal year 2011 -2012 stands at $7,891,108 against a national budget of $729,553,334. The judiciary shares in 1.08% of the said national budget.

“The judiciary is charged with the constitutional responsibility of upholding the rule of law, and for the judiciary to fulfill this important mandate, adequate funding is of necessity - a requirement,” Justice Benjamin said.

Speaking of the judiciary’s work load, Bar Associaton President Jacqueline Marshalleck also addressed the increase in the amount of cases being appealed to the Belize Court of Appeal. “You, yourself my Lord, noted that there were some seventy-eight cases filed last year on appeal.”

Marshalleck said there is a need to carefully examine whether or not the increase is primarily due to a lack of confidence in the quality of decisions being delivered at the Supreme Court level or whether the number of claims filed in the Supreme Court have significantly increased so there are simply more appeals being taken in the normal course.

Marshalleck said that the increase in appeal cases has put pressure on the Court of Appeal to address the large number of appeals in a timely fashion.

“This matter needs to be addressed sooner rather than later if we wish to avoid a serious backlog in our appeals process.”

Attorney General Bernard Q.A. Pitts gave reassurance that the administration is not insensitive to the crime situation and has introduced legislation aimed at assisting in the deterrence of crime.

“From my point of view Restore Belize, with its many-pronged approach to the problem, has been so far successful. It is an ongoing process which does take time and requires patience.”

The opening ceremony began with the traditional church service at the Wesley Methodist Church, followed by the usual march, led by the Belize Defence Force Band, to the Supreme Court.

The Reporter


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