Today was report card day for Belize's prosecutorial system and to no one's surprise, we failed to make the grade. The process is called the Prosecutorial Reform Index and is carried out by the American Bar Association's Rule of Law initiative in developing countries. This was the first such exercise to be conducted in Belize. The idea is that the assessment will be used to make meaningful reform to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of prosecutions. Jim McFadzen was at the Radisson Fort George Hotel this morning when the ABA's findings were released to the public.
Jim McFadzean Reporting:
The American Bar Association today, released a bleak report on the state of Belize's prosecutorial and criminal justice system. Using 28 factors as a judging tool, the ABA gave Belize a score of 12 positives and 16 negatives. The negatives speak to non-compliance with accepted international standards.
Antoninette Moore - ABA Country Director
"Where the statement in the factor strongly corresponds to what's on the ground, then the country receives a positive. However, if the statement is not at all representative of the conditions, then that factor would get a negative. If the conditions within the country corresponds to some extent, but not in others, then you would get a neutral."
On the positive side, Belize scored well in administrative areas such as requiring university-level education for crown prosecutors, a well-developed and equitable disciplinary process, a professional and respectful relationship with judges, and solid relations with the media. But those strengths do little to inspire public confidence in the system.
Professor Jimmy Gurule - Author, PRI Belize 2011
"One of the reports have indicated that the conviction rate for murder in this country was 1 in 10. So think about that for a moment. So, the chances of a person who commits murder of being convicted is 10%? It's 10%? That's unacceptable. If the public does not have confidence in the criminal justice system, if the public does not have confidence in the prosecutor's office to do justice in the criminal justice system, then this undermines the rule of law. It undermines democracy in any country."
Professor Jimmy Gurule is the author of the PRI report.
Professor Jimmy Gurule
"In a large part, it is this problem. It is the fact they're able to threaten and intimidate victims and witnesses from testifying. And of course, what ends up happening, a witness is hurt, or a victim is killed in a particular case; that has a ripple effects with respect to other witnesses, other victims in other cases. They're going to say, 'Look what happened to that person over there, that could happen to me. So I'm not going to testify.' And then other defendants go free as a result."
Lack of confidence in the justice system, and perceived rampant corruption amongst law enforcement officials, were factors documented by Transparency International in 2007, and in the Crook's Report of 2009.
Professor Jimmy Gurule
"The perception of corruption in Belize by the public - the perception is that it's rampant. There is this view that police officers in Belize - their salaries are low - again that's a perception. The morale is low, and therefore they are vulnerable to accepting bribes."
Professor Gurule is a professor of criminal law at Notre Dame Law School and has served as Under Secretary for Enforcement at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and as Assistant Attorney General with the U.S Department of Justice. The ABA says it hopes that the Government of Belize and law enforcement officials will review and adopt the recommendations contained in the report.