The administration of criminal justice (in Belize) is perceived to be very weak. Major contributing factors are two- fold. Police investigative, evidence-gathering, case building and case presentation skills are poor. The Prosecution Department is poorly managed and staffed by the most junior counsel who typically do not stay beyond a year or two and lay prosecutors who prosecute high profile magistrate's court cases...

Godfrey P. Smith

Attorney General, Belize

Source:
www.belize.gov.bz



The present Attorney General of Belize is the Honourable Godfrey Smith. He is also Belize's Minister of Information.  Mr. Smith completed law school at Tufts University and subsequently spent three years as an associate with Barrow & Williams in Belize City. He then began his political career.

As Attorney General, Mr. Smith directs the actions of IMMARBE, the police, and the criminal courts. As Minister of Information, he oversees Belize's public relations, and Press Office.

Is there a conflict of interest in these duties that prevents a meaningful investigation into the Wave Dancer tragedy?



The Attorney General's Ministry, also called the Ministry of Justice, is the central legal department of the Government of Belize. It is headed by the Attorney General who is of cabinet rank and has ministerial responsibility for the Judiciary, the Registrar General's Office, the Solicitor General's Office, the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and Law Revision, the Family Court, and the International Merchant Marine (IMMARBE).



The Responsibility of the Attorney General and Minister of Information are:

  • Administration of Estates
  • Administration of Justice
  • Births and Deaths
  • Companies (including Company names)
  • Contracts
  • Copyright
  • Crown/Civil Proceeding
  • Evidence
  • International Business Companies
  • Intellectual and Industrial Property
  • International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE)
  • Justices of the Peace
  • Law Revision and Reform
  • Legal Affairs
  • Legal Aid
  • Legal Drafting
  • Marriage
  • Mutual Legal Assistance
  • Newspapers
  • Notaries Public
  • Public Trustees
  • Patents and Designs
  • Salvaging of Wrecks
  • Trademarks
Ministry of Information
  • Information (except broadcasting)
  • Information Technology
  • Press Office
  • Public Relations


THE LAW LORDS: IS TIME RUNNING OUT FOR REFORM?

Retrofitting a country's legal system sounds like an exciting, but overwhelming proposition.

Throw skepticism to the wind. This is Belize, a micro-jurisdiction whose lawyers, judges and magistrates total fewer than 100. The administration of Belize's legal system could easily be run by the larger commercial sets in the City of London.

Remember Belize
More recently recognized for the London newspapers two-week feeding frenzy over billionaire businessman, Tory party treasurer and Belize's ambassador to the UN, Michael Ashcroft.

Belize is not unknown to the British press. Our legal system attracted some attention in David Pannick's article Divine intervention in the courtroom featuring a Belizean judge who, in delivering himself of judgement, commented that "the answer to the case came to me" on a Sunday night. It was a "divine inspiration" which "goes to the glory of God."

There is no shortage of larger than life legal personalities in Belize. One Guyanese attorney in Belize instructed his client "to go on to the land and shoot the defendant as a trespasser with intent to kill under common law rights."

He cited Archbold under the heading "Excusable Homicide" as authority that an owner may use such deadly force, which extends to killing anyone who would dispossess him, to protect his property.

In a defamation action brought by the same lawyer against a local newspaper for describing him as a "loose cannon," Justice Nathan found that "the advice given…more than earns him the comment of being a "loose cannon."

It was "very mild and benign in the given circumstances."

There was the Chief Justice renowned for his robust application of judicial activism who, in making a declaration on the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to grant special leave to appeal in the Logan case, said that if the Privy Council acted contrary to his declaration it would be seeking to "arrogate" a power it did not have, and it would amount to "rule by decree by Her Majesty in Council." The Court of Appeal made clear that it did not endorse his declaration.

The Privy Council rejected it. Their Lordships' decision came to the Chief Justice's attention shortly before he sat to hear the ill-time application of 'creolized' British Barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC to be called to the Belize Bar.

Fitzgerald, who was denied admission, was one of several counsels who had appeared in the Logan appeal before the Privy Council.

The Quality of Justice
According to the Department for International Development's (DIFD) Country Strategy paper, Belize is a middle ranking country in terms of the UN Human Development index.

The inadequacies of our justice system are hardly as glaring as those faced by countries in the African sub-continent. Indeed, reports of human rights abuses in Belize pale in comparison with that of our Central American neighbors. Nevertheless, they are sufficiently pronounced to have led to a general call for judicial and legal reform.

The symptoms of the malaise that afflicts justice in Belize are characteristic of small Caribbean jurisdictions: and erosion of judicial independence courts that have ground to a halt by leaving in their wake a paralyzing backlog of cases; the frivolous filing of lawsuits emboldened by feeble cost-enforcement; inequality of arms between defence and prosecution that prejudices criminal justice administration; restricted access to basic legal advice, legal-aid being mandatory, only for capital cases; an unregulated legal profession and the absence of a culture of continuing education among lawyers and judges.

Strategic Reform or Legal Alchemy?
In a three-year plan of action, this writer charts a course for the comprehensive reform of the justice system in Belize.

The plan is mostly commonly described locally as "ambitious," loosely translated in Belize to mean "difficult to accomplish."

In reality the challenges are not insurmountable.

At the risk of over-simplifying, the plan is substantially predicated upon the utilizing of modern management practices and the power of information technology, decentralization, strategic division of labor and a little creativity.

Bearing in mind that there are five high court judges, five prosecutors at the DPP's office and a dozen magistrates for the entire country, introducing a system of computerized registers to monitor case management, adjournments, case disposition, cases overturned on appeal, etc, for judges, magistrates and prosecutors is a relatively simple and inexpensive undertaking.

The basic idea is that if the persons tasked with the responsibility of prosecuting or adjudicating, paid for by taxpayers, know that their performance can be reviewed at anytime, by electronic means or otherwise, pride along will drive them to be more accountable for their time and the quality of their work.

IT, not Death, is the Great Equalizer
Information technology has supplanted death as the great leveler.
Practitioners no longer need be a disadvantage whether in a local or international arena, due to unavailability of the latest books or publication or the unavoidable delay in accessing such publication.

For a legal community of 100, it is a simple exercise for a government to outfit a library that has access to global legal information networks and electronic legal research tools.

This has the effect not only of arming counsel with the required legal information virtually instantaneously but also helping council to avoid obsolescence in the coming new international legal order, as well as making them more marketable.

Acquiring a taste for Belize
The idea of improving voluntary skilled or trained personnel to bolster public or social services in developing countries is not new.

In Belize, the UK based Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and the US based Peace Corps have been assisting Belize as well as numerous other countries, in the areas of education, skills training, health care, agriculture and small business enterprises for many year now.

Last year, Belize radically expanded on this concept by accepting Fidel Castro's offer and deploying 50 Cuban doctors in the rural areas of Belize to provide community based healthcare.

This type of cooperation has never been extended to legal services. But there is no reason why it should not.

In fact, after floating the idea among a group of barristers and solicitors at Doughty Street chambers on 16 September, this writer is convinced that it could work.  Opportunities exist for barristers and solicitors to come to Belize for a minimum of three months and serve as temporary judges or magistrates clearing case backlog. A temporary appointment as Crown Counsel attached to the Legal Aid department would present the opportunity or representing clients in a wide range of civil criminal cases in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Undoubtedly such venture could yield many positive returns including cross-fertilization of jurisprudence, meaningful international experience and most importantly, expanding access to Justice in Belize.

Godfrey P. Smith
Sources:
www.belize.gov.bz





























All contents of this site © 2005 Milly Armao, except where otherwise noted.