We normally see Magistrates trying cases and handing down decisions. Today we met them in a different environment. The Judiciary of Belize in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association are hosting a two day seminar for the magistracy. The objective of the seminar is to provide magistrates with the opportunity to discuss issues they confront in the dispensation of justice. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Today magistrates of the six judicial districts gathered at the Radisson Hotel to discuss major issues they face in handing down justice in Belize. Chief Magistrate, Margaret Babb McKenzie says that the magistrates face numerous challenges everyday from financial, to staffing, to security, which impacts their work:

Margaret Gabb McKenzie

Margaret Gabb McKenzie, Chief Resident Magistrate

“The department continues to be faced with many challenges which include logistical and financial constraints. Working conditions; as litigation grows in amount and complexities, our courts have to grapple with existing backlog of cases, delay and inadequate resources. There can be no doubt that the use of technology in our courts would enhance court administration allowing cases to be disposed of within a shorter period; thereby allowing judicial officers and court staff to be more effective in their time management, in giving better service to the public and legal profession. Presently, we are not in a position to have the technology that can address some of the concerns that face the system of a daily basis.”

Sam Lungole Awich

The acting Chief Justice, Sam Lungole Awich, handed down his advice to the magistrates:

Chief Justice Sam Lungole Awich

“Today we shall discuss procedure, evidence, some of the areas of law that we frequently deal and perhaps some of the general public’s perspective. My advice is this, aim at being correct about the evidence and law if you are a first instance judge or a magistrate. Avoid guessing, read the applicable provisions in the criminal court act, the indictable procedure act, the inferior courts act, the summary jurisdiction act, the family courts act and families and children act to confirm what you want to do. It does not matter whether you have read it the day before or a hundred times before, that is how you get it right each time the question arises. Then generally read the area of the law that the case presents to you.”

In order to administrate justice and good governance, Chief Magistrate says that it will take proper resourcing of all the bodies involved:

Margaret Gabb McKenzie

“The Magistrate courts are in my view ready and able to provide the highest standard of criminal justice but cannot do it alone. All the other agencies like the police and the D.D.P. office must be properly resourced. Prosecutors must likely be highly trained in order to properly present their cases. Once these agencies are properly resourced, the administration of justice in the magistrate’s courts will be something we can all be proud of.”

The workshop continues on Saturday with presentations on Sentencing, Witness protection and discussion of establishing a Magistrates’ Association. Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.

Discussions are being led by Justice Ingrid Mangatal of Jamaica, Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale of Cayman Islands, District Judge Shamim Qureshi and Paul Norton of England and Wales.

Channel 5