BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 5, 2018– The new Criminal Procedure Rules which came into effect during the last legal year for dealing with cases at the Supreme Court and Magistrate’s Court were designed to address the massive backlog of cases.
As it now stands, the rules mandate that disclosure must be given as quickly as possible and new cases must be disposed of within a timeframe of six months from the time of arraignment to completion of the case.
The Criminal Procedure Rules, however, will do no good in addressing the backlog of cases if there are fewer judges and magistrates to enforce them, and new cases continue to overwhelm an already clogged-up criminal justice system.
For example, last year, 145 murders were committed in Belize and when the amount of arrests for those is added to the over 200 prisoners on remand for murders and are awaiting trial that paints a grim picture of a criminal justice system that is struggling and is in a crisis situation.
That is the problem that the Magistracy is now grappling with — a chronic shortage of qualified magistrates across the country.
In Belize City, where there used to be at least 7 magistrates, there are only 4, including Chief Magistrate Sharon Fraser. Magistrate Aretha Ford, who recently completed specialized training in the United Kingdom, was promoted to Senior Magistrate and was moved from Civil Court to the regular Magistrate’s Court.
Magistrate Michelle Trapp, who also completed specialized training and was working at Legal Aid, was appointed as a magistrate. Trapp replaces Magistrate Carlon Mendoza, who resigned and took up an appointment at the Belize Tourist Board.
Khadeem Palmer, a Jamaican national who was Deputy Registrar, was recently appointed as a magistrate to sit in the Belize City Magistrate’s Court.
Magistrate Norman Rodriguez has been placed on interdiction, pending the outcome of an allegation of rape against him that was recently committed to the Dangriga session of the Supreme Court.
In the twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio, presently there is only one magistrate who is stationed in San Ignacio — Magistrate Hurl Hamilton, whose resignation takes effect at the end of this month.
Magistrate Emmerita Anderson, who is stationed in Belmopan, travels to Benque Viejo twice per week to do cases. Apart from Magistrate Anderson, there is also Magistrate Ladona John, who is stationed in Belmopan.
Magistrate Emerson Banner, who was originally posted in Punta Gorda but was transferred to Dangriga, is now on vacation leave. The magistrate, Yolanda Delamoya, who was stationed in Independence, has resigned, leaving Independence without a magistrate.
Magistrate Albert Hoare, who was stationed at the Municipal Court, was moved back to the regular magistracy and is stationed in Orange Walk.
In the Supreme Court, Justice John “Troadio” Gonzalez has reached retirement age since December 2016, and his replacement has just been appointed for the new legal year. Two more Supreme Court judges will reach retirement age this year; they are Justice Adolph Lucas and Justice Dennis Hanomansingh. The backlog of Supreme Court cases continues to grow, however, because more judges are needed in the criminal division. The Court of Appeal also has a vacancy because of the resignation of recently appointed Justice Franz Parke.