BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Thurs. Mar. 23, 2017–Parliament is expediting passage of a suite of 4 bills as a part of criminal justice reform which would enable murder convicts to be considered for parole—a reform pushed in consequence of a legal challenge lodged at the Caribbean Court for Justice (CCJ) by murder convict Gregory August back in 2015 in the first criminal appeal filed with the CCJ from Belize.
In April 2015, the CCJ agreed to hear August’s application as “a poor person,” to challenge his conviction for the 2009 murder of Alvin Alpheus Robinson, 73, for which August was sentenced to life behind bars.
However, the CCJ remanded the case back to the Court of Appeal for further ventilation. Last year, the Court of Appeal reduced August’s sentence to 30 years, less the time he has already served. Next Friday, the CCJ expects to hear the consolidated cases of August and Alwin Gabb, another murder convict sentenced back in 2013 to life behind bars.
In presenting the bills for passage today, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Natural Resources, Hon. Dean Barrow, United Democratic Party leader and member for Queen’s Square, said that the bills, prepared by Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte in collaboration with the Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, are urgent in light of an imminent session by the CCJ.
The four bills presented for passage are: (1) an amendment to the Criminal Code, Chapter 101 of the Laws of Belize, providing for a minimum term which an offender sentenced to life in prison for murder shall serve before he/she can be eligible for release on parole; (2) an amendment to the Evidence Act, Chapter 95 of the Laws of Belize to allow for oral evidence to be taken by live video link or other electronic means; (3) the Indictable Procedures Act, Chapter 96 on the Laws of Belize, including new provisions to address prescribed minimum sentences for imprisonment, having regard to companion amendments to the Criminal Code for sentencing of persons under 18 who are convicted of murder; (4) and a bill for enshrinement of the parole regime, including provisions for persons convicted of murder, provisions for the modification of the parole board, and introduction of new offences for activities unduly affecting the operations of the parole board.
Barrow said, “…the urgency is that there is some case before the CCJ which is to be finalized next week and the Director of Public Prosecutions has indicated that the court wishes to see that there is legislation that we will have passed to deal with the matter in a certain way.”
The bills will go up to the Senate for approval next week.
Opposition Leader Johnny Briceño today confirmed his support for the amendments, which were sent to him in advance.
Official prison statistics supplied to Amandala indicate there are currently 43 murder convicts at the Belize Central Prison, and whereas the death penalty is still on Belize’s lawbooks, those who had been sentenced to death had their sentences commuted to life.
The reform means that more murder convicts would be able to seek consideration for parole.