BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 8, 2017–Recently appointed magistrate, Norman Rodriguez, who was called to practice at the Belize Bar shortly after he became a magistrate, yesterday summoned a Woman Police Constable (WPC), who is responsible for the public area of the court’s holding cell, to appear in his courtroom.
There was noise coming from the cell block area, and so Magistrate Rodriguez cited the WPC for contempt of court and fined her $25 plus $5 cost of court. He ordered the WPC to pay the fine by Friday, February 10.
Magistrate Rodriguez’s decision to cite the WPC for contempt of court sent several officers of the court scurrying around to find out the meaning of contempt of court as it relates to the Laws of Belize.
One of the justices of the Supreme Court was able to assist with a quote from the Substantive Laws of Belize Revised Edition 2011. At Chapter 101 of the Criminal Code, the law says at Section 267: “Every person who with force, threats or tumult, hinders, interrupts or disturbs the proceedings of any court, or willfully and unlawfully with force, threats or tumult, hinders any person from entering or quitting any court, or removes him therefrom, or detains him therein, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years.”
At Section 268 of the same Chapter 101, it speaks to a misdemeanor offense and at Section 269 upon summary conviction, speaks to a term of imprisonment for three months.
Within the framework of that cursory view of the law, contempt of court is a serious offense and the penalty is usually imprisonment.
One senior counsel who spoke to Amandala on condition of anonymity, however, thinks that the WPC was not in contempt of court.
“She was not a party to any proceeding taking place before the Magistrate,” the senior counsel pointed out, “for him to cite her for contempt.”
He believes that Magistrate Rodriguez’s decision to charge the WPC for contempt of court was an error, because the officer was not the one making the apparently disturbing noise on the cell block.
“The court’s holding cell is not necessarily a place that can be kept quiet,” another officer of the court, who also did not wish that his name be mentioned, told Amandala.
Information to Amandala is that a government attorney who had heard about the incident at the court called Magistrate Rodriguez to advise him that the WPC was not in contempt of court.