On February 6, the Belize Police Department unveiled its National Crime Fighting Strategy in order to combat the escalating crime situation in Belize. Part of the strategy was to put in place legislative reform to assist in getting the crime problem under control. In this regard, the Criminal Control and Criminal Justice Amendment Act is such a piece of legislation that is being put in place. The amendment calls for stiffer penalties to be levied against persons belonging to a gang as stated in Section 3 (1) of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Amendment Act. Love News spoke with Attorney Bryan Neal to get his views on the amendments and whether such a piece of legislation would help to solve the crime problem.
Bryan Neal, Attorney at Law: “I don’t think that this is going to help quite honestly. This is a quite draconian piece of legislation. I understand the problem we have in our society and I understand that people who are in positions of power are trying to address the problem but I think that this will only make matters worse because it doesn’t show an understanding of what the problem is in our society. There are murders happening all over this country and to think that you can legislate away that problem I think it is quite honestly foolish and I don’t think that this legislation will help. From a legal standpoint one of the things that struck me is the penalties, 20 years for being a member of a group that seems kind of draconian. Another thing that I find troubling is that the standard of proof has been lowered in criminal cases. I just did a murder case a couple weeks ago, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, by this piece of legislation the standard of proof is only on a balance of probabilities which is a much lower standard which is far easier to prove. So it has made the penalties more draconian but it as the same time it has made it easier to prove these crimes. Furthermore it takes away the right, again just like the other pieces of legislation to trial by jury so you are not even judged by a jury of our peers who can say whether or not you are a member of a gang- you are judged by a judge alone on a very low standards with draconian penalties if you are found guilty and I can’t see how that will address the crime problem. How will that address the problem in Cayo, Orange Walk, PG? Murders are happening every year and it’s more of a societal breakdown more than a gang problem.”
Neal said that the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Amendment Act is a reactive approach to the problem and shows a lack of understanding of the crime problem in Belize.
Bryan Neal, Attorney at Law: “I mean we don’t have a gang problem in Belize, we have a crime problem and this is geared towards addressing the problem of gangs. As a criminal practitioner in court if I was a decision maker my emphasis and focus would be on criminal justice reform. Because a lot of the cases of people who are actually murdered their cases go to court and we have good lawyers in Belize and there is a deficiency in the way that the evidence is marshaled and gathered by police and oftentimes the DPPs office tries its best but because of the cases that have been given to them there are no convictions.”
Love News contacted the Solicitor General Nigel Hawke in the Attorney General’s Ministry for a comment, but he declined to comment until after it has been assented by the Governor General.