Crime

Criminal Justice System in crisis! Chief Justice Benjamin says

“The criminal justice system is in crisis,” Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin said at the official opening of the Supreme Court on Monday.
C.J.Benjamin noted that the number of indictments in the criminal division of the Supreme Court are far in excess of the ten cases heard during the legal year.
“As of January 11, 2013, the number of inmates at the Belize Central Prison awaiting trial in the Supreme Court stands at 181, of whom the majority of case files are for murder,” he pointed out.
He also reviewed some of the Judiciary’s highs and lows in various areas during the preceding year, including the perennial scarity of funds to carry out the work.
The Judiciary accounts for 1.05% of the national budget, and Benjamin declared that the unprecedented number of cases involving violent crimes, especially capital offenses, continues to be a source of alarm to the public.
Judges in the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court consistently bemoan the paucity of legal representation to represent persons in capital cases, Benjamin said.
Thirty-eight of that 181 inmates at the prison are looking for legal representation, Benjamin disclosed.
To offset this problem, there are plans to hire a new judge to sit in the Criminal Division.
According to Benjamin, there is also a proposal to increase the honorarium paid to attorneys who represent persons accused of capital offenses.
Newly elected President of the Belize Bar Association, Mr. Andrew Marshalleck, S.C., said that the continued surge in violent crime has eroded the public’s confidence in the judicial system to deliver justice.
He said that this explains in part the fear that gripped society only last week, when the bodies of the George Street Gang members were discovered.
Another area of concern to the Bar is the tenure of judges.
Marshalleck said that the bar applauds the appointment of new judges, but he noted that there are a number of judges sitting in both the high court and the Court of Appeal who are on short term contracts.
“We struggle to understand why some judges are favored with long-term appointments when others are not,” he said.
Attorney General Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, during the final address, made the point that one of the distinguishing characteristic of Caribbean countries is the paucity of both human resources and financial resources for the expensive task of nation-building and development.
Elrington added that the legislature and the executive are doing all in their power to reduce the national debt to levels which will allow for sustainable debt management.
By so doing, the AG said, government will be in a better position to furnish the Judiciary with both the human and financial resources it so desperately needs.
The assessment of last year’s problems and challenges followed the traditional pomp and ceremony, which succeeded a short march from Holy Redeemer Cathedral to the Supreme Court Building where a police guard of honor was drawn up to be inspected.

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