By Benjamin Flowers
The Supreme Court will enact numerous legal reforms to improve the delivery of justice this year, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin announced this week.
Justice Benjamin, speaking at the commencement of the 2015 legal year, announced that areas such as criminal procedure rules, regulations for police with regard to treatment of suspects under detention, sentencing indication, and witness testimony, will be reformed in the months ahead.
Under the new criminal procedure rules, expected to come on stream next month, there will be a mandatory limit for a person to spend on remand awaiting trial.
“No person should await trial in the Supreme Court for more than two years with shorter time limits being applied to persons in custody on remand and to Magistrate Court matters tried summarily,” C.J. Benjamin declared.
Adjournments will also be limited and efforts are to be made to work through pre trial matters quickly. Judges will also be empowered and “expected” to dismiss cases not ready for trial within the time limit.
Under the new police guidelines on the interviewing and treatment of persons in detention, caution statements will be digitally recorded and minimum standards of care will be implemented for persons in detention.
Police officers will also be required to thoroughly document the treatment of detainees in their custody. The amendments are to be introduced by the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Allen Wylie, to address allegations of brutality and confessions obtained by force.
The judiciary is also preparing to implement rules enabling magistrates and judges to disclose what sentences are likely to accompany an early guilty plea. These rules were drafted to further accelerate the delivery of justice by encouraging offenders to plea out early.
The guidelines, which are still in preparation, were drafted by analyzing decided cases of the Supreme and Magistrates’courts going back over ten years.
With respect to the protection of vulnerable witnesses in murder trials, Justice Benjamin said that Cabinet is considering a Draft Bill to make provisions for a witness to give anonymous testimony in “rare and deserving cases.”
Witnesses are to give evidence behind a screen, via video link from a remote location and to be cross-examined after a pre-trial recorded interview.
The Chief Justice also spoke of upcoming technological upgrades for the Supreme Court Registry and the prison-to-court facilities, advancements in juvenile justice, all with the intent of offering better delivery of justice to the Belizean public.