Mass Prosecutor Absence Forces Adjournment of Belize High Court Cases

Mass Prosecutor Absence Forces Adjournment of Belize High Court Cases

Cases at the Belize High Court had to be adjourned today after a mass absence of prosecutors. According to reports, the prosecutors are protesting the rejection of their request to either be provided with security or given a security allowance.  According to the prosecutors, they have come under attack through threats of their personal safety due to some of the cases they have been dealing with in the courts.  Love News spoke with the President of the Association of Defense Attorneys, Dickie Bradley, who explained that the gist of the matter is the discrepancy in salaries when compared to two foreigners who were recently employed by the government.

Richard “Dickie” Bradley, Attorney: “Suddenly a number of the prosecutors who are trained attorneys and are the only persons who can appear in the Supreme Court as prosecutors only lawyers can do that. In the Magistrates Court you could get a paralegal, you could get a police, you could get different people acting as prosecutors. It’s unconstitutional, but we are in Belize and strange things do happen. These prosecutors… have had thrown in their faces the salary of a person who was recently employed from abroad. As you know, the whole judiciary is basically being staffed by foreigners. We’re probably the only country where we have turned over our judiciary to foreigners. So a person who was employed from abroad to be like a legal assistant in the high court and the salary offered to that person, you all have covered this already is considered by Belize standards to be a very high salary. It sparked off a request by the prosecutors to meet with the powers that be in Belmopan to find out how this could happen when we have been requesting an increase in our salaries, which are far below the amount that was given to the foreigner. In fact since then since then another foreigner has been sent and is paying another high salary like the first one. So clearly these people are not going to feel like they have been treated with respect. So today we are not surprised. I understand that the president of the public services union may get involved. And this matter if it’s  not dealt with fairly and quickly will lead to industrial action in the public service, in the public sector, which will then close the country wrong. Now the Supreme Court has been closed. This is unprecedented.”

And while Bradley has labeled this as industrial action, the President of the Public Service Union, Dean Flowers, has spoken of a purported flu that has affected the prosecutors.

Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union: “I am unaware that today’s action is a form of industrial action. From what I have been made to understand there seems to be a bug, a flu bug or something to that effect within the office. So I would like to recommend that the Ministry of Health goes in and sanitize the office.”

Back in late July, eleven Crown Counsels out of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have written to the recently installed Attorney General, Anthony Sylvestre, to lobby against their low wages.  It is a matter that was brewing with an inevitable spill after the government had increased the salaries for multiple positions within the judiciary.  In February 2023, the Ministry of Finance issued a circular, noting that the Chief Justice salary was being upped to 240 thousand annually, and the President of the Court of Appeal would be increased to 200 thousand annually.  Additionally, the Justices of Appeal would be raised to 180 thousand dollars annually despite only having meetings some three times annually. With all that said, however, PSU President Flowers, has told Love News that he does not approve of a salary increase just for the prosecutors. 

Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union: “I believe that again the concern is a valid concern. The only area that I would disagree is that I don’t believe that at this point in time, if there will be a review of the compensation packages for those officers, I don’t believe that it should be restricted only to those offices or to those departments or ministries for that matter. It is a known fact, René, that the politicians since 1981 or before, perhaps in 1798, over time has eroded the public service and has politicized the public service where selection and recruitment is concerned and where compensation is concerned. All right? And so there is a lot of anomalies across the public service where people are doing the same work and are being paid or compensated differently or have a different compensation package. We have since called on the government and as recent as I believe this month, we wrote to the prime minister to say to him that we believe the time has come for there to be a comprehensive review of the compensation arrangement in the public service. We believe that that public offices across this service, the work that they do needs to be revaluated and revalued and people need to start being paid what they deserve to be paid and not what some politician at the time of their employment saw fit to give to them.”

Our newsroom was unable to confirm if the prosecutors will feel better to report to work tomorrow.

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