By Benjamin Flowers, Staff Reporter
Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin said this week, that the situation with prisoners on remand at the Belize Central Prison (BCP) is unacceptable.
Speaking at the opening of the legal year on Monday, CJ Benjamin explained that the number of prisoners on remand, and the duration to which some have been on remand is worse than they were in the previous year.
As of December 31, 2015, there were 403 persons on remand at the BCP, an increase over the remand population at the end of 2014.
“Of that number, 186 are awaiting trial in the Supreme Court, predominantly for the offence of murder. Twenty-seven accused persons have been on remand for over five years,” the CJ said.
He explained that the the trial process is plagued by adjournments, reluctant and recalcitrant witnesses and numerous voir dire hearings. He added that there is also a problem with the number of Attorneys practising at the bar willing to do criminal cases, as it challenges the ability of the Court to assign Counsel in capital cases.
To address some of those challenges, the court has completed the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Rules, which came into effect this year.
The new rules, which were sent to be published on January 9th, will penalize parties who unduly hinder the hasty completion of a trial, by placing the cost of court fees on them.
Section 2.18 of the amendment states that the court “must consider” making an order for the offending party to pay for the cost of the Court proceedings where it has been determined that the delay to the trial was unreasonable. Under Section 4.9, the court can issue cost orders, if by any act or omission of a person involved in the trail, the proceedings are delayed.
The scope of the judges’ ability to levy costs on the offending party extends beyond just defense attorneys and includes the Belize Police Department and its officers, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and its staff members.
Failure to pay the costs may result in contempt; however, at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions, this provision will come into force on September 15, 2016, to allow for familiarization with the workings of the Rules.