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Marty Offline OP
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The roof of the Supreme Court building was damaged by Hurricane Lisa, and three weeks later, heavy rains have caused leakage across the structure, culminating last night in a collapse of the roof over the stairs near the boledo area that leads to the high courts.

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Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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The Collapse At The Courthouse

Yesterday, we showed you the dilapidated state of the courtrooms at the Magistrate's Court. The roof lifted during hurricane Lisa, and with the recent rains, it flooded four courtrooms and damaged lighting fixtures as well. The magistrates had to relocate to the other side of the building.

And if that wasn't bad enough, early this morning, embarrassment turned into mortification for the century old building when the ceiling on the stairway to the country's highest courts collapsed in a spectacular fall. Fortunately it happened before court working hours so, no one was hurt. But because of the manifest dangers of remaining inside, the courts will now have to relocate temporarily.

And now these damages have caused the wheels of justice to - however briefly - grind to a halt, affecting access to justice for many regular Belizeans. But how did it get to this point, where the courthouse can't withstand a category one hurricane?

Courtney Menzies spoke with the Chief Magistrate about the state of the historical building today, and has this story.

The stairway ceiling of one of Belize City's most historical buildings collapsed this morning - and now the Magistrate's Courthouse has been rendered almost completely unusable.

And while the building had already been contending with leaky roofs and mold, Hurricane Lisa amplified the problem, ripping off the roofs and flooding the courtrooms.

And according to Chief Magistrate, Sharon Frazer, the collapse of the ceiling was just a matter of time.

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"I remember talking to the security saying, oh my goodness, I feel like this dome is going to collapse. It was moving further away from the building. What I am grateful for is the fact that nobody was around when it collapsed and then the government would have had to be addressing somebody getting hurt as a result of the collapse. The constant rain, the damage itself from hurricane Lisa, the constant rain now would have caused us to be where we are today. What is the present position, the present position is that the Chief Justice has given instructions that until a declaration is made as far as the safety of the building that she doesn't necessarily want anybody in the building."

Courtney Menzies:
"Who did the assessment for this building?"

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"I know that there was a structural engineer who came initially, I wasn't a part of that so I can't speak to that, I can tell you that there were members of the Ministry of Infrastructure that came and did a walk through, so they went upstairs, they came down here, and now they were to come back to look at the extent of the damage, put pen on paper and do all of that so that is still pending."

Courtney Menzies:
"But did they consider that the Magistrates Court might face this problem of flooding?"

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"They were aware because the engineer and the building supervisor who came form the Ministry of Infrastructure looked at it and saw the water that came down in the court that has had the most significant damage so they went in there, they looked, they took down the light fixture to let out water that was in there so yes, they would have but with a view that they would have been able to come back because at that point it was just simply a walkthrough."

But court reporter, Anita Nembhard, says that she's witnessed firsthand the slow deterioration of the courthouse - and was shocked to see the damage in the area where she normally stands up to do her work.

Anita Nembhard, Court Reporter
"To be honest, I was, it was unbelievable. I had predicted that if the roof was not deal with that come Monday that this inner portion would have been gone over the weekend because I realize that the weather was calling for more rain and I was doing my own little surveillance of where I work everyday. This is where I monitor matters coming in through the back and the front to know what new matters is here so this was, yeah, this is bad and I felt lucky to know that, this morning when I saw the picture came in, that nobody got hurt."

Courtney Menzies:
"But as someone who understand how important the justice system is, do you feel like this should have been taken care of in the early days after the hurricane, or maybe even before the hurricane came?"

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"That is definitely an understatement because from my twenty years of being out here, I've seen this building deteriorate. I understand the historical significance of this building and I always said it's good that when they do a little touch up, but it needed more than just a touch up."

But, as the Chief Magistrate put it, they could only repair what their budget allowed them to do, and that an overhaul of the building was not within their means.

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"I know that in fact as far as leaking roof is concerned, efforts were done, if you notice in the front of the building from a distance, in the front of this building, new zinc were replaced, particularly in the area that house the Chief Justice, new zinc were replaced, so its not that the building was being ignored it is just that a building of this nature, of this size, would have deserved considerable amount of resources."

"We've been addressing it as best as we can with the kind of budget we have."

And now, while arraignments were held this morning, trials have been suspended, and the court system is now looking for a temporary home to conduct its business because, as Frazer said, the ceiling is not a simple fix.

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"I'm hoping that it will be addressed, I know that it would not be any time soon that we will be able to say this building will be fixed. We're hoping the find a temporary home, at least, at very least, for the courts that have been affected, and continue serving the public as best as we can."

Courtney Menzies:
"But we know justice delayed is justice denied, so with that said, and with the government knowing the condition of the court even before the hurricane, and especially now that the hurricane passed - it passed three weeks ago, and the CJ has just visited yesterday, do you feel like she should have visited earlier, the government should have moved earlier because of how important this service is to the public?"

Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate
"The Chief Justice was aware of the issue of the damages and I can tell you that the attorney general was also made aware of the damages and I know that in fact she had indicated that the Ministry of Infrastructure was to come and do an assessment with how we move forward. This is not just like a home that you can go and put on new zinc or whatever the case may be. It's a historical building so even as it relates to simple repairs, one has to go through a whole process than if it's just an ordinary building."

For now, the magistrates using the four affected courtrooms will have to be rotate use of the rooms that did not sustain damages - and Frazer believes the ceiling on the right hand portion of the building may collapse before repairs can be done.

Last week Cabinet approved for a supplementary appropriations bill to allocate funds to repair the damages and upgrade the Supreme Court buildings in Belize City. But da when?

This afternoon, a team from the European Union was seen inspecting the court house - walking through the damaged corridor and taking pictures.

Channel 7



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