The pageantry of the opening of the Supreme Court
This morning, traffic in downtown Belize City came to a halt, for the pageantry and ceremony which marks the opening of the Supreme Court for the calendar year. School children, tourists and regular passersby stood watch as the traditional pomp and circumstance of the formal event played out in front of the historic Supreme Court. News Five was there for the public event on Regent Street and the speeches inside the courthouse. Here’s my report.
Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
The traditional opening of the Supreme Court was the spotlight of downtown activities this morning. The members of our national legal system convened at the Holy Redeemer Cathedral for an ecumenical service. They then paraded in full regalia over the swing bridge into downtown Belize City ending at the Supreme Court. As is customary, the justices of the court as well as the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, carried out the inspection of the guards of honor.
Following the national anthem, the gathering of legal professionals made their way into the Supreme Court for the opening address by the Chief Justice, President of the Bar Association, Andrew Marshalleck and Attorney General, Honorable Wilfred Elrington. The Chief Justice’s address outlined the achievements and challenges of the judiciary. As with most other organizations in Belize, finances were the first challenge identified.
Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice
“The reality has been and will always continue to be that any discussion of the functioning of the Supreme Court must begin with the discussion of the availability of resources. The ability of the judiciary to fulfill its constitutional mandate in an ever changing social economic and political landscape is directly affected by the quantum of financial resources allocated for its use. As it stands for the fiscal year of 2012-2013, allocations of the judiciary inclusive of the magistracy was budged at eight million one hundred and ninety three thousand five hundred forty six dollars being one point zero five of the national budget.”
The C.J. acknowledged and thanked Justice Samuel Awich and offered best wishes for his recent elevation. He then officially welcomed the Justice Courtenay Abel who has been since October of last year. The Chief Justice also took the time to highlight the use of new software and the creation of a database to assist in case management. He called it a ‘home grown solution.’ As it pertains to situation of Crime, the C.J. says the criminal justice system is in crisis. The concern is not only the number of cases but also the lack of counsel available for the accused.
“The unprecedented number of cases involving violent crime especially capital offences continue to be a source of alarm to the public. The criminal justice system is in crisis. As of January eleventh, 2013 the number of inmates at the Belize central prison awaiting trial in the supreme court is one hundred and eighty one of whom the overwhelming majority face trial for murder. The judges in the criminal division have consistently beheld the paucity of legal practitioners available to represent the accused persons for capital cases. As of today they are thirty-eight murder accused seeking legal representation.”
Various strategies will be undertaken to address this problem including recommending an increase in the honorarium for counsel in capital cases and the expected appointment of a new judge to the criminal division. The newly elected President of the Belize Bar Association, Andrew Marshalleck, initiated his address by pledging support of the Bar in effectively address some of the age-old issues the judiciary has faced. He then pointed out that the lack of confidence that Belizeans have in the judicial system.
Andrew Marshalleck, President, Belize Bar Association
“Last year and unprecedented one hundred and forty eight were reported for this year. The continued surge in crime and violence even with the policies that have been implemented with a view of arresting it coupled with the public scrutiny has led to significant erosion in the confidence of the general public in the capacity of the legal system to deliver justice. This explains in part the fear that grip society on the discovery of the George Street slayings only last week. This erosion of confidence must be addressed as a matter of urgency. It behooves all of us on both sides of the bench to take personal responsibility for this and do all within our power to address and arrest it.”
Marshalleck spoke of the need to expedite trail for accused persons on remand as a matter of national priority. Also of concern, security of tenure of judges, the bar president noted the difference in tenure agreements with judges appointed last year.
“Last year, we saw a number of appointments both to the supreme court and the court of appeal. We applaud those appointments that which sought to confer security of tenure on those appointed we remain however most concern that a number of judges of both the Supreme Court and court of appeal continue to serve under short term contracts and we struggle to appreciate why some judges are readily favored with long term appointments when others are not.”
But while the Bar president spoke of the need for public confidence in the legal system, the Attorney General, Wilfred Elrington, expressed his gratitude to the Belize judiciary for their human service under what he called unquestionable difficult circumstances. The A.G. first tackled the issue of lack of resources.
Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, Attorney General
Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington
“Unfortunately, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Caribbean countries is a perennial paucity of resource both human and financial with which to take the expensive and difficult task of nation building and development. Of which the dispensing of justice is unquestionably the cornerstone. I can give you the reassurance my lord that the executive and legislature are doing all in our power to reduce our national debt to a level which will allow for sustainable debt management and hopefully get debt elimination while at the same time get wealth generation by so doing our government hopes to be a better position to furnish the judiciary with both the human and financial resources it so desperately needs.”
With the conclusion of the Attorney Generals presentation, the ceremony was adjourned and the Supreme Court was officially opened.