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Ceremonial Opening of the the Legal Year #547582
01/18/21 11:13 AM
01/18/21 11:13 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,900
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
Live stream of the Ceremonial Opening of the the Legal Year

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Re: Ceremonial Opening of the the Legal Year [Re: Marty] #547592
01/19/21 05:47 AM
01/19/21 05:47 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,900
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Supreme Court Opens, Virtually

The official opening of the Supreme Court - it's a ceremonial staple on the second Monday in January of every new year.

Usually, it's a mass gathering of members of the legal fraternity, but not this year.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, today's opening of the Supreme Court was carried out virtually for the first time, a necessity for public health and safety. If you tuned in to the virtual ceremony, you'd have definitely heard the bold and outspoken comments that the Acting Chief Justice, Michelle Arana, delivered in the defense of the judiciary. This was the first ceremonial opening under her leadership, and Daniel Ortiz has that story:

To reduce the possibility of COVID-19 exposure, portions of the event were pre-recorded. It began, as it usually does, with the ecumenical service at the Wesley Methodist Church on Albert Street.

Hon. Bishop A. Moses Benguche - President, Methodist Church
"Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, everything has a season and a time in which to live it. With life being lived, we're knocked down, and sometimes we have to pick ourselves up, and there are many of us who can attest to that."

At the conclusion of the service, there was no march by the judges, the court staff, and the lawyers through downtown Belize City. Instead, the virtual ceremony went directly to the judges, and the acting Chief Justice inspecting police honor guard.

Police Officer
"Madam Chief Justice, [I'm] asking your kind approval to march the parade pass and off."

Hon. Michelle Arana - Acting Chief Justice
"Thank you for an excellent parade, permission granted." /i>

Then, it was on to the highlight of this event, public remarks from the Chief Justice.

For this, her very first address, Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana dispensed some real talk about how the justice system is currently performing with a small budget, especially in this harsh COVID-19 environment.

Hon. Michelle Arana - Acting Chief Justice
"The budgetary allocation for the fiscal year 2019-2020 was 10 million, 101 thousand, 654 Belize dollars, representing a reduction of 1-twentieth of the previous year's allocation, and a mere 0.098% of the national budget. This year's for 2020-2021 has been further reduced to 9 million, 182 thousand, 355 Belize dollars, or 0.083% of the national budget. The demands on the judicial system are overwhelming."

"The harsh reality is that the optimal judicial system that we all envision and desire is simply not attainable on the present underwhelming and inadequate shoe-string budget, especially under the present, dire circumstances."

Those dire circumstances included the departure of 3 judges from the civil division. And of course, the court had to adapt to the virtual and technological world that became a requirement for managing the health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic

Hon. Michelle Arana - Acting Chief Justice
"There were 1,111 new matters lodged in the civil division of the Supreme Court for the year, 2020. With the departure of Chief Justice Benjamin and Chief Justices Griffith and Abel, it fell solely to the remaining 2 judges in the civil division, Justice Sonya Young, and myself, between April 2020 and September 2020, to manage our individual caseloads, along with cases left behind by our colleagues who had left the bench, as well as address new matters as they arose. Suffice it to say, that was a truly harrowing experience, aggravated by the daily uncertainty resulting from unprecedented health and safety concerns caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, as we struggled to make the abrupt transition from in-person hearings to virtual hearings. But, we soldiered on, and mercifully, despite many obstacles and setbacks, the administration of justice did not grind to a halt."

The judiciary is also being taxed in the criminal division.

Hon. Michelle Arana - Acting Chief Justice
"I wish to publicly thank all judges of the criminal division for soldiering on during the pandemic, and ensuring that the administration of justice did not collapse. Although jury trials have been suspended since March 2020, due to the dangers of COVID-19, our judges have continued holding judge-alone trials and hearings, using video link for bail applications, ensuring that the constitutional rights of the liberty of the subject, and the rights of defendants to trial within a reasonable time, remain paramount and honored, even in the midst of this ongoing health crisis."

"The caseload, which was previously shared by 5 judges will now have to be shared by 3 remaining judges, Justice Antoinette Moore, Justice Herbert Lord, and Justice Francis Cumberbatch, an untenable situation, which will push the judicial system to its limits, if not rectified by the addition of new judges in the next few months."

The Magistracy is facing its own problems which are similar to the Supreme Court, but from the perspective of the new Attorney General, all these problems are the direct results of neglect of the judiciary by the previous Barrow Administration.

Hon. Magali Marin-Young, SC - Attorney General
"In Dangriga and Belmopan, we have dry-weather Magistrate Court facilities, where the roof leaks during the rainy season. Likewise, we have found a Supreme Court, where the courtrooms and chambers have leaking roofs, where judge's chambers are moldy, where I have witnessed Marshalls having to place buckets to catch water on rainy days, and where the furniture is dilapidated, and in some cases, infested with woodlice."

"The Court of Appeal building is infested with mold and roaches and is inadequate in size to accommodate a proper courtroom, and to also accommodate chambers for resident and visiting judges."

"The Former Administration has spent million unsuccessfully in litigation, spending - by best estimates - over 20 million in legal fees paid to private attorneys, but woefully under-invested in the judiciary, causing the infrastructure to decay. It effectively failed to invest in the rule of law."

Among other topics, the President of the Bar Association focused briefly on the Court of Appeal.

Iliana Swift - President, Bar Association of Belize
"This year, we expect to see a modernization of the court system, with the implementation of an E-filing system, electronic payment system, and virtual trials. We expect to see the recruitment of highly reputable judges to fill the current vacancies and to assist in clearing the current backlog in both the civil and criminal courts."

"Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice will not be rendered if we have another year where the Court of Appeal sits for only 2 weeks of virtual hearings, if only limited criminal matters are dispense of countrywide, and if civil matters are limited to interlocutory hearings."

The Briceno government is contemplating a new Court of Appeal Act where those brief sessions from the Court of Appeal will become a thing of the past. The plan is to enable resident judges to sit year-round. At this time, the working plan is to create civil and a criminal divisions of the Court of Appeal.

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