BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – The Canadian government-funded Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice) Project has concluded its Situational Analysis of the Magistrates’ Courts of Belize.
This study was commissioned by the Project in mid-2021 at the request of Magali Young, SC, attorney-general of Belize. Consultants, Justice Dennis Morrison, QC, president of the court of appeal of the Turks and Caicos Islands, justice of appeal of the Cayman Islands, former president of the court of appeal of Jamaica and former judge of the Belize Court of Appeal; and Godfrey Smith, former judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and currently a private practitioner in Belize undertook the study which ended in January, 2022.
A series of interviews and digital and paper-based surveys were undertaken as a part of the study to gather the opinions of persons in the justice sector, as well as the general public, on the deficiencies in the magisterial system, particularly in terms of service delivery and infrastructure. Higher-level discussions with members of the justice sector including chief justice Michelle Arana (Ag.) and the attorney-general of Belize were also held to gather views on the current legislative framework and to identify the regulatory needs of the system including the need for a code of ethics for magistrates; the need for sentencing guidelines; and the feasibility of establishing specialized jurisdictions within the Magistrates’ Court system.
The study also included site visits to magistrates’ courts across the country and meetings with Magistrates and staff to get a firsthand look at the courts’ plant and equipment and general operations.
IMPACT Justice is indeed pleased to have partnered with the office of the attorney-general on this initiative which has resulted in the formulation of a number of recommendations which can be undertaken by the government of Belize to address many of the challenges faced by the magistrates and the users of the court system. Some of these recommendations include the provision of mentorship and guidelines to new Magistrates’ being brought onto the bench, the provision of subscriptions to online legal resources and the introduction of smart technologies such as digital payment systems; as well as the provision of recording and transcribing equipment.
Another key recommendation, which will be undertaken with the assistance of the IMPACT Justice Project, is the purchase of certain key legal materials for the use of magistrates at all of the magistrates’ courts.
Now that the study is completed, copies have been shared with select stakeholders in the justice system for consideration and hopefully will result in much needed reform.
The study is available at IMPACT Justice.
IMPACT Justice is indeed pleased with the work of the consultants and looks forward to a continued partnership with government of Belize on other initiatives which include the revision of that country’s subsidiary laws.