High Court Prosecutors’ Absence Disrupts Belize Judiciary
For the second day in a row, the judiciary was rocked by an absence of prosecutors in the High Court of Belize. Several Crown Counsels from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who prosecute criminal cases, called in sick simultaneously on Monday, essentially bringing criminal hearings at the High Court to a halt. With no Crown Counsels to give advice on how to proceed with charges, a number of serious matters before the court, some of them a decade old, are unable to proceed. These include the cases of Tehje Vaughan, charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of her co-worker; Denroy Bartley charged with murder; Howard Reyes, a Burrell Boom resident charged with attempted murder; King Li Liu charged with possession of false documents; Rona Ireland, a cashier charged with theft of four thousand dollars from the Treasury Department; and Jarvis Matthews who is charged with rape. Also affected was the trial of Jared Ranguy, who is charged with triple murder. Ranguy, who is accused of killing his mother, stepfather, and sister back in 2012, appeared in the High Court today for what was to be his case management hearing. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl Lyn Vidal, appeared herself at the hearing before Justice Nigel Pilgrim; however, it was adjourned until Tuesday, September 26. Love News spoke with Attorney Audrey Matura today, on the key role that the Crown Counsels play in the machinery of justice and the massive implications their absence will have on the judiciary.
Audrey Matura, Attorney: “If they are not present it means that the attorneys who represent the state, that is bringing the case against the alleged criminal, the alleged accused any name you want to call it is not there. So now I practice before the criminal bar as a defense attorney, in the past I was a prosecutor all criminal prosecution starts at the High Court level with the office of the DPP. So if they’re absent there can be absolutely no hearing because the person who is bringing the case is no there so it has a massive implication. Here in my mind the implication is that one, we already have a serious backlog. Serious. The amount of cases has increased before the criminal bar. That means every day you miss is a further delay. Two, it also means that there will be many more people who are in prison who will be able to get bail for cases like murder because they will be able to show that there is a delay in justice and they should be out on bail that’s a new thing that has been happening that possibility will increase. Then, we only have bail hearings once a week. This is a crazy week because the holiday is Thursday. So either the judge would have had the bail hearing Wednesday or Friday. But for there to be a bail hearing it means that the office of the DPP must also send its prosector to say whether they object to the bail or not. It may be that the judge wold proceed and say well the other side didn’t come and object because in a bail hearing it’s the defense attorney that starts the case. So if it’s my case and I show up and the other side didn’t show up there is noone to object to the bail I will make my arguments and everybody should get bail that is how I’m seeing it I’m not saying that is how it will be.”
Sources tell Love News that the DPP was the only one of her office staff with prosecution responsibilities, to show up to work at the Belize City office today. However, prosecutors showed up to work for sessions in the Orange Walk High Court, which was presided over by Justice Herbert Lord. The absence of prosecutors comes at a time when major issues are being raised in the judiciary involving the salaries of prosecutors, safety concerns for prosecutors, and an influx of foreigners in the judiciary. Prosecutors have reportedly been raising concerns about safety and security, prior to the incident in June where Iran Jones was abducted and killed, shortly after testifying in a murder trial. Jones’s body was found in a shallow grave near Biscayne Village on June 24.