BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 7, 2021– During Friday’s Senate meeting, a bill was passed to increase the number of judges sitting on the Court of Appeal. The government of Belize’s intention is to reduce the backlog of cases that has accumulated over time. The short amendment makes provisions for the appointment of six judges. This will allow two sessions of the Court of Appeal to run simultaneously.
“The act currently says that the Court of Appeal shall comprise of the president plus 4 judges. That has limited the amount of sittings, because every panel has to be 3 judges. The intention is to appoint at least 6 so that you can have 2 sessions or 2 panels sitting and running simultaneously. The intention is to try to remove the backlog of Court of Appeal cases that have built up over time,” stated Leader of Government Business, Senator Eamon Courtenay, when the bill was presented in the Senate.
Senator Michael Peyrefitte, in commenting on the bill, noted that the new amendment might require a proviso that specifies a minimum number of judges to be appointed to the Court. He said that the downside of the previous bill may have been the cap on the number (maximum number) of judges, but pointed out that it did outline a floor (minimum number).
”When you read it here, when you replace four with such you could have ten, if you want, but if you put such, then you could also have one if you — which is clearly not the intent of the amendment, but I think if you have a proviso to just make sure you have a minimum in mind and that you could have such others that go way beyond that minimum, but not below,” Senator Peyrefitte explained.
In response to Senator Peyrefitte’s suggestion, Senator Courtenay replied, “I think we can be confident, first of all, that the bill has a title and it says to expand the composition of the Court of Appeal, and therefore any interpretation will be in that context — that it was intended to expand. With respect to the floor, all I will say [is] that any government that seeks to reduce the number of judges in the Court of Appeal below the current four, and if the six that are appointed below the then six, they will be the subject of the wrath of the people of Belize and the legal profession, led I am sure, by Senator Pitts.”
UDP senator and attorney, Sheena Pitts welcomed the amendment and went further to suggest that a full-time Court of Appeal could be considered, as is seen in other Commonwealth jurisdictions.
“I wonder if on the other side, apart from or in addition to having simultaneous sittings with 6 judges, we can go even further to consider having a full-time Court of Appeal, as is the case in other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth. My only concern, Madam President, is that we invite into our territory on the basis of the best available legal minds, and with that comes with it the necessity to be able to remunerate decently those legal minds,” Senator Pitts said.