Friday’s Special Sitting of the House of Representatives was the first official meeting for the Briceno administration inside the National Assembly. The 10-hour session began just after ten o’clock with two papers, eight bills and two motions on the day’s agenda. Taking precedence was the Supplementary Appropriation Bill (numbers five and six) and that sought to give approval to the government to acquire monies to service the public service for the remainder of this fiscal year. The number five Supplementary Appropriation Bill went through its three readings on Friday while the number six portion went through its first reading. An amendment was also made to the Central Bank of Belize Bill that would allow the government to tap into resources for emergency situations. Another of the eight bills had to do with the public health sector and the implementation of stricter penalties for those going against regulations. It also seeks to include the Covid-19 virus.
Hon. Michel Chebat, Minister of Health and Wellness: “I rise to introduce a bill entitled “The Public Health Amendment Bill 2021″. This is a bill for an act to amend the Public Health Act Chapter 40 of the Substantive Laws of Belize revised edition 2011 to expand the definition of infectious disease and dangerous infectious disease to increase the penalty for the breach of regulations, to provide for violation tickets and to provide for matters connected therewith and incidental there to. Madam Speaker by way of introduction of this bill with your permission a few brief words. Madam Speaker the Public Health Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Public Health Act to include COVID-19 as an infectious disease and dangerous disease for the purposes of part five of the act which provides for the notification, general prevention, and mitigation of infectious and dangerous disease. The inclusion of COVID-19 as an infectious and dangerous disease will allow for the minister to make regulations that provide for all matters concerning the coronavirus outbreak including regulations that provide for violation tickets to be issued for the breach of COVID-19 regulations. Additionally this amendment provides for higher penalties to be imposed for a breach of any regulations made under this act. The act currently provides for a fine of $200 for the breach of any regulations made under section eighty two. This fine will now be increased to $5,000.”
Amendments were also tabled for the Belize Constitution. In this segment Minister Francis Fonseca rose to speak on this Bill connected to the judiciary and the ability to release judges from the courts.
Hon. Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture: “This constitution amendment bill seeks to amend section ninety eight of the Belize constitution by adding two grounds for the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court. Presently there are two existing grounds; misbehavior and inability. The first additional ground is where a judge has persistently failed, past tense, failed to give written decisions. The second ground is similar to the first but is tied to another bill which we are also introducing today called the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Bill and this ground covers where a judge persistently fails, present and future tense, to give written decisions as prescribed by the National Assembly in that new time limit bill. I will discuss the details of that when I introduce that bill. Section 102 of the constitution is also being amended to incorporate the same grounds to address justices of appeal of the Court of Appeal. This amendment bill sends a very clear message that our government is serious about good governance and accountability; the Judiciary too must be held accountable. The Judiciary under section six of the Belize constitution has a duty to uphold our citizen’s rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time. For too long the former administration allowed the delay in delivery of judgment to have persisted to the prejudice of the public. We have a new government and business as usual will not cut it.”
There was a second change proposed surrounding the judiciary. This was the introduction of the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Bill 2021. Fonseca noted that this is the Bill that will hopefully put an end to delayed justice.
Hon. Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture: “Judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal continue to persistently be late in the delivery of judgments. This can result in litigants being forced to retry their claims or to seek constitutional redress. As a government we have a duty to uphold the Belize constitution, to strengthen the administration of justice. It is with this in mind that we table this bill today to impose time limits for judges to hand down their written decisions and expressly include persistent failure to deliver timely judgments as a ground for removal. Specifically the bill proscribes the time limit for delivery of judgments to one hundred and twenty days from the conclusion of a trial or the hearing of an appeal. The bill establishes a mechanism for a judge to apply to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission for an extension of time to deliver judgments where he or she has good reason and where the reasons are limited to those enumerated in the bill. To apply for an extension a judge must do so within seven days before the expiration of the proscribed time period. If a judge fails to deliver a judgment within the time limit or any extension given the JLSC has to within thirty days of the deadline notify the Belize Advisory Council of that occurrence. This then provides a record for the BAC to take in account if there is any complaint to remove a judge under the grounds of persistently failing to give written decisions. So Madam Speaker what is being proposed in this bill is simply codifying what our apex court, the CCJ, has already pronounced. Importantly as well this bill will assist our efforts at economic recovery by providing for greater confidence in the rule of law and thereby improving the investment climate. As I said earlier as a part of it’s good governance and accountability measures the government is sending a very clear and strong message that the judiciary too should expect accountability.”