BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 24, 2017–The Bar Association fired off a scolding press release after 5:00 this evening, taking umbrage at “the media” for reporting on a hot-button issue leaked on Friday evening just prior to its annual general meeting—a proposal to call for the resignation of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin over extensively delayed judgments, some of which have been outstanding for more than 5 years—and while the press release was mostly directed at the messenger, so to speak, it dealt to a lesser extent with the core issue at hand.
In a terse comment included in the press release, the Bar conceded that, “The facts are that there are outstanding judgments and the Bar is duty-bound to do all within its statutory powers to seek the delivery of those judgments.”
Customarily, judgments are expected to be handed down within 3 months of hearings and up to 6 months in extraordinary cases, but it has been reported that Benjamin, who was appointed to the post of Chief Justice in Belize on September 15, 2011, has delays dating back to the first year of his appointment.
There are several cases for which no decision has been handed down, and they range from personal injury cases to banking matters. We understand that a case involving a challenge to the sale of shares in Belize Telemedia Limited to the Belize Social Security Board is also on the list of cases for which a decision has been pending for some years.
On Friday, July 21, 7 News headlined the issue, stating that, “the Bar is considering the option of calling for, ‘(the) voluntary resignation of the Chief Justice on the basis of a lack of confidence in his ability to deliver outstanding decisions.’”
It went on to say that, “Failing that, another option is to, ‘Make a formal complaint to the appropriate body for the removal of the Chief Justice from office for misconduct, that is, the manifest failure to deliver timely decisions in breach of the constitutional right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time.”
The matter of outstanding judgments by the Supreme Court had come up even prior to Benjamin’s tenure in Belize. The Bar Association had taken on the Judiciary when Dr. Abdulai Conteh served as Chief Justice of Belize, but at the time, the contention was that there were over 50 delayed judgments, with about 60% of those pending from then Supreme Court Justice Samuel Awich.
Now the allegation is that Benjamin is responsible for the bulk of the pending cases, as the other justices have tried to keep their backlogs to a minimum.
According to the document referenced by 7 News, judgment is pending in 30 cases before the Supreme Court, with delays spanning 2 years and 5 years 5 months, and “most of these cases are before the Honorable Chief Justice.”
It was reported that over a year ago, Benjamin had pledged to deliver on average two decisions a week to try to clear the backlog, but the contention is that he hasn’t. Instead, only 3 have been delivered.
Amandala is informed by a member of the Bar who attended Friday’s meeting that the Bar has decided to hold back on taking any action until after September, after the court’s recess, which would allow the Chief Justice an opportunity to try to make amends during his vacation, as he has requested.
There are concerns that the extensive delay amounts to a breach of the constitutional rights of litigants to have their matters dealt with in “a reasonable time,” and there is a suggestion that a constitutional motion could be mounted on behalf of aggrieved litigants.
We are told that the matter could be raised with the Belize Advisory Council, which is an oversight body with the jurisdiction to consider the recommendations that may eventually be formalized by the Bar Association.