The Court House (Supreme Court Building), Belize City
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Thursday July 6, 2017

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Building the new courthouse, 1818

1911. Read the words above the stairs. "God Bless our King and Queen"

Unveiling of Governor Hart-Bennett Memorial Tablet. William M. Hart-Bennett was Governor of British Honduras (now known as Belize) from 29 January 1918 to 4 September 1918
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The Supreme Court of Belize is established as a superior court of record under sections 94 and 95 of the Constitution. The Court has unlimited original jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings under any law. The Court also hears and determines any appeals arising from any decision of an inferior court. There are currently 8 Judges of the Supreme Court including the Chief Justice.
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The Court House (Supreme Court Building), Belize City

Built in classic British colonial style the Supreme Court building in Belize City is complete with clock tower.

The original courthouse in Belize City was destroyed by fire in 1818 and in 1926 a new building was constructed to house the Supreme Court. This grand old edifice has 4 clocks facing each of the cardinal points and is entered via an intricate ironwork stairway leading to the second-floor veranda.

The Supreme Court of Belize still holds several annual sessions on the second floor while the first floor houses a daily magistrate’s court.

The court is not opened to the general public.

On September 1st, 1786, at a magistrate meeting, a man by the name of “Dan” offered a lot located at the present day Government House. This lot was the first location considered for the Court House. As faith would have it, the lot was used for the construction of the Government House in 1814 and the rest is history. Here are seven additional facts:

1) The first Court House was built in 1818, and was almost destroyed in the great fire of 1863, which burnt almost the entire town.

4)The 1818 Court House was replaced in 1880 with a new Court House constructed out of wood with the same architectual design as the current Court House. The second court house was built by a Prussian Army Officer by the name of Gustav Von Ohlafen. Mr Ohlaffen was the same person who built the Vaults (1881) located at Sanker’s Park in the Yarborough area.

5) The second Court House was eventually destroyed by fire on August 17th, 1918.

6) Governor Hart-Bennett died as consequence of the 1918 fire when the flag pole which was weaken by the fire, fell and hit him on his head. He died a month later from his injuries. He has been the only Governor, Lieutenant Governor and/or Superintendent who has died on the job.

7) The current Court House, constructed from concrete, was built in 1926.

Do you know what is the connection between the Court House, Governor William M. Hart-Bennett and the Vaults at Yarborough?

The Court House you see today is not the original Court House, the original was built in 1818 and was rebuilt in 1880 by a Prussian military officer named Gustav Von Ohlafen. The building was a beautiful wooden structure, reminiscent of the colonial architecture of the time. The current building was constructed in the same design as the 1880's version, except in concrete.

Mr. Gustav Von Ohlafen was also the contractor for the infamous Vaults that was built in the Yarborough area (see picture). The Vaults structure was built in 1882 when the second Yarborough Cemetery reached capacity. The Vaults was Mr. Ohlafen's solution to the fact that the cemetery was in a low lying area and the coffins were submerged in water after interment. The Vaults has been the only failed attempt to bury the dead above ground. The Vault structure contained hundreds of apertures where the dead were and would be placed. It was closed in 1886 when the community complained that they could not endure the smell coming from the Vaults. One of the good things that came from the Vaults was that the residence of the area were able to survive the surging waters from the 1931 and 61 hurricanes by going on top of the structure.

Governor William M. Hart Bennett, CMG, was the 7th Governor of British Honduras from January, 29th,1918, to September 4th, 1918. His tenure was one of the shortest tenures of all the Governors due to an unexpected life ending event.

What connects all three is that the new Court House that was rebuilt by Mr. Gustav Von Ohlafen was burnt down on August 17, 1918. During that fire, Governor Hart-Bennett, who was directing the efforts to extinguish the fire, was struck by a falling flagpole from the Court House. He died from those injuries on September 4th, 1918.

The irony is that, Mr. Von Ohlafen, who built the Court House and the infamous Vaults, was the first person to be buried in the infamous Vault after his death.

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