BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 22, 2015–The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) concluded its first itinerant sitting in the country of Belize after 2:00 on Wednesday afternoon, after hearing arguments over whether the Government of Belize should pay damages to the Maya community in a land rights appeal – the first of its kind heard by the regional court.
In concluding the proceedings, CCJ president Sir Dennis Byron lauded the parties for their contributions to the case, and for helping the CCJ to expedite the proceedings by working with the court on a consent order which settled all issues in the case, with the exception of damages. After hearing the parties on the matter on Wednesday morning and early afternoon – without taking a lunch break – the CCJ has reserved judgment.
Byron said that the court was very pleased to be able to sit here in Belize. He explained that the itinerant sittings—the fourth being held by the CCJ in its member states—are important because they help to establish personal identity with the constituent citizens who they serve.
Byron thanked the Belize Bar Association for embracing the court in Belize, and it also expressed its gratitude to Registrar General Velda Flowers and the staff of the Belize courts who provided support services for the CCJ while in Belize.
In welcoming the court at the opening of proceedings here on Monday morning, Eamon Courtenay, SC, former president of the Belize Bar Association, noted that it was in January that Justice Byron, on the invitation of the Bar, came to prepare the way for this week’s historic visit by the CCJ.
He said that it was with great honor that the Bar welcomed the CCJ, its justices and staff for its first sitting in Belize, as the country’s final court of appeal.
“We thank you very much for making this important step,” said Courtenay.
He also congratulated Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee of Trinidad on her elevation and appointment to the bench, and noted that the Belize sitting represents her first sitting as a CCJ judge at a historic milestone, as the CCJ turns 10 and as Belize celebrates its 5th year with the CCJ as its final appellate court.
“The people of Belize have heard a lot about the CCJ; now they are seeing it! They can now believe this is, in fact and in truth, the final appellate court for Belize. We never saw that other court,” said Courtenay, speaking of the Privy Council, which was our final appellate court until 2010.
Courtenay noted that the CCJ would, while in Belize, sit over a number of important cases, including the Maya land rights case and Belize’s first criminal appeal, another historic milestone. That appeal challenges the conviction and sentence of his client, Gregory August, serving a life sentence for murder.
“I wish the court a very successful sitting for Belize,” Courtenay said.
President Byron thanked Courtenay for his welcoming remarks, and said that in the spirit of the historic nature of the proceedings, he would invite Rajnauth-Lee to utter her first words as a judge of the CCJ.
Rajnauth-Lee expressed her gratitude for the warm welcome which the CCJ had received. Noting Belize’s national motto, “Under the shade of the tree we flourish,” she said that she believes the shade of Belize will do a lot for the CCJ, as they sit here to bring a sense of justice for the entire region, including Belize, where, she said, she is pleased to undertake her first sitting as a CCJ judge.