Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin highlighted the limitations the judiciary had to face in its delivery of justice for 2017. The Chief Justice was speaking on the occasion of the opening of the legal year. Reporter Johnelle McKenzie and cameraman Myles Gillett were downtown and here is their story.
The legal year for 2018 was declared officially opened by the Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. Prior to the ceremonial opening, there was a church service at the Wesley Methodist Church, followed by a procession by the legal fraternity through the principal streets of Belize City. Apart from being ceremonial in flavor, the event is essential because it is an opportunity whereby the Chief Justice informs the country of the judiciary’s performance in the previous year and the expectation for the upcoming year. In declaring the 2018 legal year open, the Chief Justice Benjamin, pointed out limitations the judiciary has had to deal with in its delivery of justice.
Kenneth Benjamin – Chief Justice
“Which is to provide access to justice through a system that is fair, prompt, independent, efficient and effective. Naturally, the ability to fulfill this mandate is constrained by budgetary allocations and the availability of human and physical resources. So I turn to budgetary allocation notwithstanding limitations in the allocation of financial resources. The judicious system must be resolute in its task of upholding the rule of law and dispensing justice to all court users. It has been the approach of the Judiciary to seek assistance from local and international agencies where possible to assist in the financing of training initiatives, the introduction of innovation and the amelioration of equipment and court buildings. In this regard, I pause to express copious gratitude to UNICEF the national committee for family and children. The United States state department through the Embassy of the United States in Belize and the Juris Project funded by the Global Affairs Canada for the fiscal year 2017-2018 of the national budget the Judiciary inclusive of the magistracy was allocated nine million nine hundred and fifteen thousand one hundred and ten dollars which represents approximately one percent of the National Budget for the period 2017-2018. This is a reduction of 0.06% form the allocation for the Fiscal year 2016 2017.”
The Chief Justice Benjamin noted the changes to the magistracy with the appointment of Michelle Trapp and the promotion of Aretha Ford to Senior Magistrate. He also noted the retirement of Chief Magistrate Anne Marie Smith who was replaced by Sharon Fraser. The Chief Justice said that there is a need for more magistrates and encourage the attorneys present to offer their service in that capacity. The Chief Justice proceeded to comment on the cases that came before the court in 2017.
Kenneth Benjamin – Chief Justice
“In 2017 a total of eight-hundred-thirty-eight838 civil claims inclusive of petitions for bail were filed. Seven-hundred-and-eleven claims were disposed of, three-hundred-sixty-four divorce petitions were filed and two-hundred-ninety-two decrees were granted. Criminal division the disposal of cases in the criminal division was severely hampered by the absence of one judge from the central district. Throughout 2017 the list for that court remained 131 cases however with the engagement of two additional judges it is expected that the rate of disposal will be significantly increased. The purpose sentencing guidelines are in the final stages of completion; accordingly, the basis for sentence indications will be provided to assist in encouraging early guilty pleas. Remand population; according to the statistics received from the Kolbe Foundation four hundred and twenty for persons are awaiting trial, five persons are awaiting decision, two persons are awaiting sentence and one person is detained pending extradition. Of the two hundred and thirty accused person waiting for trial in the Supreme Court 156 or 68.6% have been in custody for over two years as earlier reiterated the task of the two additional judges will be to manage and address the cases of those persons whose time on remand has been lengthy.”
In conclusion, the Chief Justice Benjamin, called on the Attorney General to revise the legislation in the area of insolvency due to the disorderly state of the law of bankruptcy.