In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister John Briceno spoke of his government’s focus to improve the judiciary. There is a backlog of cases and a shortage of magistrates and justices. That has been the case for quite some time now and PM Briceno announced that three itinerant judges have been appointed to the Court of Appeals. Attorney General Magali Marin Young provided more details, saying that the Commonwealth has agreed to provide four new justices.
Magali Marin Young, Attorney General: “Let me start firstly with the Court of Appeal. We had the president retire last year around the end of las year around Christmas time last year and then we had two itinerant judges whose contracts had expired. This year we interviewed candidates and the Prime Minister’s Office has appointed three itinerant judges. We hope to recruit some more in very short order so that bench will have a full complement so that I believe they are scheduled to start back up in October. So appeals will restart in October. It will still have to be virtual because of all the COVID regulations and also these itinerant judges will be sitting where they are resident so the Court of Appeal should be on its way shortly. With the Supreme Court we had two judges retire in the early part of 2020. We also had two judges in the criminal division resign earlier this year so that court is short of four judges. We have luckily through the assistance of the Commonwealth the Commonwealth has agreed to provide us with four judges for the Supreme Court and the selection process has taken place, the Judicial and Legal Services Commission has interviewed the candidates that the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided.”
Marin-Young says these justices will work on a one-year contract. The government is working with the Commonwealth Secretariat to have those judges relocated to Belize. The aim is to clear the backlog in the criminal division of the Supreme Court.
Magali Marin Young, Attorney General: “Most of those judges – well I can’t speak for the Chief Justice who assigns matters but I think one of the priorities for her will be the backlog on the criminal division. So we hope to get that court fully functional within short order. On the long term basis we will try to recruit judges full time to that court but we will also be engaging in a restructuring of that the court system in Belize. Plan Belize calls for some administrative restructuring of that court and so we are in the process of conducting consultations with a view to restructure that court. I think when we have restructured that court then we will aggressively pursue long term appointments. So the Commonwealth’s Secretariat Judges are to help us in the meantime while we reform the structure of that court.”
As it relates to the magistracy, Marin-Young says some magistrates have resigned while some are on study leave, leaving a shortage of magistrates. The AG says that a process to hire additional magistrates is currently ongoing.
Magali Marin Young, Attorney General: “The Judicial and Legal Services Commission is in the process of interviewing persons right now and I think they have short listed candidates and will be conducting interviews to add a complement of Magistrates to that court. So very shortly Magistrates will be appointed to sit in those courts.”