BELIZE CITY–The traditional opening of the Supreme Court is the time when the bar and the bench engage in their reflection on the performance of the judiciary at the opening of the new legal year. During this year’s address on Monday, January 12, the Bar Association expressed its concern about the performance of Belize’s second highest court, the Court of Appeal, particularly during its last session.
“The Bar Association wishes to put on record its serious concern about the Court of Appeal. The last session of the Court of Appeal was historic in its underperformance,” said the president of the Bar Association, Eamon Courtenay, S.C.
“For the first time in history, there was not a single criminal appeal, as far as I can remember. That is unacceptable.”
Courtenay added, “There was a record low number of civil appeals heard.”
Courtenay said the Bar Association met in November and resolved that he should write to the government, to bring to Government’s attention the concerns of the Bar.
“I have done so on two occasions, and I have been ignored,” Courtenay continued, noting, “The association took a decision that we should publish to the public the state of affairs, and that it intends to take drastic and dramatic action to have this matter resolved.”
Courtenay said that they remain hopeful that the government would engage with the judiciary and with the association to have this matter resolved to ensure that criminal and civil appeals will be heard within a reasonable amount of time.
Another area of concern that the Bar president addressed was the General Legal Council and its inactivity.
Courtenay lamented the fact that “it has been one year that the General Legal Council has not met.”
He said that complaints continue to mount and complainants are becoming restless.
“It is unacceptable that persons who are supposed to be served by an attorney-at-law file complaints and cannot get a hearing. Your Lordship is now the chairman of the General Legal Council. Since November we have elected three persons to serve on the General Legal Council, and we have so informed Your Lordship,” he stated.
Courtenay urged the Chief Justice to call a meeting of the General Legal Council at the earliest possible time, “so that the mountain of complaints can be dealt with.”
Courtenay pointed out that the amendment to the Legal Profession Act has put the Bar Association into a new era. He said, however, that much more remains to be done with the Legal Profession Act and that it remains to be seen how the public interest will be served.
“It is more than two years that we have presented to the government a comprehensive memorandum for amendments to the Legal Profession Act. That memorandum was not considered when the amendments were made last year,” Courtenay said.
“We call upon the government to give mature and dispassionate considerations to the memorandum and to make far more constructive amendments to the Legal Profession Act,” he said.
Courtenay said that in the new dispensation it is no longer necessary for members of the legal profession to join the association, but he nonetheless urged members of the legal profession to join the association and to continue to support the work of the association.
Courtenay announced that the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Sir Dennis Byron, will be visiting Belize on Thursday, January 15, and on Friday, Sir Dennis will deliver a keynote address at the Bar Association Law Conference. The conference is being held under the theme “Reform, Rights and Remedies.”
Following Courtenay’s address, Attorney General Hon. Wilfred Elrington moved the motion for the court’s adjournment with his address.