Belize’s Legal Year 2021 was virtually declared officially opened today. We rejoin the News Director Renee Trujillo for an overview of the opening.
Renee Trujillo, Love News: Unlike previous years the 2021 opening of Belize’s legal year was lacking in the extraordinary gathering of legal minds, justices and diplomats. There was no grand display before the Supreme Court and the old capital Belize City nor was there any long drawn out presentations. Rather the two hour event was fully prerecorded due to the COVID-19 protocols. The event began at nine o’clock this morning and saw the acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana reporting on all aspects of the judiciary in under forty minutes. Aside from highlighting a problematic issue of stretched human resources Madam Arana also spoke of the budget cuts suffered by the courts.
Chief Justice Michelle Arana: “The Judiciary is the third independent, equal arm of government. which works in tandem with the Legislature. The budgetary allocation for the Judiciary for the fiscal year 2019-2020 was $10,101,654 Belize dollars representing a reduction of one twentieth of the previous year’s allocation and a mere 0.098% of the national budget. This year’s budget for 2020-2021 has been further reduced to $9,182,355 Belize dollars or 0.083% of the national budget. The demands on the Judicial system are overwhelming. We in the Judiciary are an have always been fully in favor of improved efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of judgments and the administration of justice in general. The paucity of manpower and the dearth of resources to address the high volume of cases is such that the small number of judges that we do have sit in court almost every day presiding over matters of varying degrees of complexity leaving precious little time to deliver written judgments in a timely manner. The harsh reality is that that 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. We are an have been woefully under resourced and underfunded for many years and as a result we suffer from chronic problems which fundamentally and directly impact the level of our productivity and efficiency on a daily basis. These include but are not limited to insufficient number of judicial personnel and support staff, inadequate, decrepit and unsafe physical infrastructure of chambers and courts and a lack of essential informational technologists, hardware and software to name a few. It is therefore with great interest and anticipation that the judiciary of Belize awaits the increase in our budget promised by this new administration.”
Renee Trujillo, Love News: Illiana Swift, President of the Beize Bar Association made her contribution to the opening. In her brief remarks she spoke on the expectations of the association as they relate to improvements in the Judiciary.
Illiana Swift, President, Belize Bar Association: “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. While it is understandable that the courts were unable to sit at their full capacities last year My Lady there should be no excuse for them not to full sit this year.”
Renee Trujillo, Love News: Amid the various issues brought forth was the backlog of cases, the deplorable conditions of the court houses around the country including leaking roofs and the need for more than the current monies allocated to the Judiciary. Attorney General Magali Marin Young rose to speak on the government’s behalf whilst assuring the public and members of the Judiciary that these matters will be addressed.
Magali Marin Young, Attorney General: “The new administration has inherited a woefully neglected Judiciary that is structurally in disrepair and that is demoralized. But Madam Chief Justice there is hope in our fledgling democracy as recently witnessed when the electorate resoundingly elected a new government with a blue manifesto aimed at delivering affordable justice, speedier trails and to restore the independence of the Judiciary. Despite the financial distress in which the government has found the public treasury we promise to double the monies allocated to the Judiciary. This may not fully happen this year because of the huge increase of spending that this government has to make to procure the COVID-19 vaccines and to resource a much neglected public healthcare system and to expend on infrastructure that has been damaged as a result of the unprecedented floods we have experienced late last year.”
Renee Trujillo, Love News: The two hour pre recorded session began with a stream of prayers from Bishop Lawrence Nicasio of the Catholic Church as well as Bishop Alvin Bengushe of the Methodist Church. Chief Celebrant was Reverend David Goff.