Enough is Enough!!! Crime Bills Will Pass Print E-mail
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Written by Shane B. Williams   
Thursday, 19 May 2011 00:00

PM Hon. Dean Barrow.Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow: “We will do what we believe we have to do for the protection of citizens in our society.”

At the sitting of the House of Representatives on Friday, May 13, the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow, introduced a legislation package that includes the toughest crime bills in Belize’s modern history. The bills introduced at the last sitting of the House are the Belize Constitution (Eight Amendment) Bill, 2011, Crime Control and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2011, Indictable Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2011,Juries (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2011. 

TheBelize Constitution (Eight Amendment) Bill, 2011 features provisions for preventative detention, anonymity of witnesses and trial without a jury. It also strengthens the legislation that provides for the death penalty. When the bill is passed it will provide for the detention of suspected criminals for more than 48 hours without filing charges. Prime Minister Barrow asked for challengers to pose constructive criticism. He said that a healthy debate is warranted but mischief is not needed. He made it clear that government will use its super majority to pass the bill and concedes that it may not be perfect the way it is written at the introductory stage. Therefore, he is asking those who don’t like the bill to “reserve their fire for the actual detailed provisions of the implementing legislation so that they can help to ensure that those detailed provisions are all that they should be and go only as far as they need to go in terms of helping the government and the society to address the problem.”

Two pieces of the bill that are designed to increase prosecution are the provisions for anonymity of witnesses and trial without a jury. In regards to the section of the bill that provides for the greater anonymity of witnesses, Prime Minister Barrow calls it a fundamental change. He explains that while it has traditionally been a “sacrosanct right” to be able to face your accuser or whoever is testifying against you, the times we are living in demands a new approach. Criminals are walking free because of various reasons and witness intimidation is one of the main ones. Witnesses refuse to testify or even speak to police because they are afraid of being executed by the criminal or his friends. This has been introduced before but the bill provides the framework to prevent appeals based on its constitutionality. Trialwithout a jury is the other feature designed to increase the prosecution rate. PM Barrow said, “… in modern times and in a society such as ours I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that the time to end this trial by jury has come.” Trial without a jury in criminal cases is new to Belize. However, PM Barrow explained that more and more Commonwealth countries are adapting the feature. The legislation he introduced was adapted from the United Kingdom’s Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill 2011 of Trinidad and Tobago. He listed more than 20 other Commonwealth nations that practice trials without jurors. Similar to the reason for anonymity of witnesses, trial without a jury is needed because of potential case tampering. It is easy to sway a juror’s decision by threatening or harming one of their family members. They are also vulnerable to taking bribes. While it is true that a judge is not free from intimidation or immune to bribery, it is much more difficult to get to a justice of the Supreme Court than it is to get to a juror or their family. Besides, it has been a long time since a criminal has actually faced a “Jury of their peers”.

After securing convictions, it is important that the sentence be a deterrent to other potential criminals. The government has previously introduced and passed legislation to increase the penalties for gun related crimes. For cases of murder the capital punishment is death, which is still in our constitution. The death penalty is only pursued in rare cases. However, in cases where it was pursued and there were conviction and death sentence, successful appeals have been launched based on a section of the constitution that prohibits inhumane and degrading punishments. Lawyers have successfully argued that the death penalty is inhumane and degrading. Now, PM Barrow is amending the constitution and will make it clear that the death penalty is not inhumane and degrading. Therefore, that challenge will no longer stand. PM Barrow explained that we may get into some difficulty with our western allies because of this move but “they don't live in the small society that we live in, they are not experiencing the concentrated fury of this assault on our lives, on our dignity, on our citizen security and so we will do what we believe we have to do for the protection of citizens in our society.”

There must be at least a 90 day national consultation process before the Belize Constitution (Eight Amendment) Bill can be passed through the house. However, the Indictable Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2011 and the Juries (Amendment) Bill, 2011 also provides for trial without a jury and since those are not constitutional amendments they can be passed in the next sitting of the House. Prime Minister Barrow said he expects to bring those back sometime next month. The Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2011 which states that an appeal against a decision of a magistrate shall not operate as an automatic stay of execution of the decision under appeal can be passed at the next sitting of the House as well. The least talked about bill is the Crime Control and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2011. However, it may be as important as any other. It strengthens the provisions relating to suppression of criminal gangs and gang-related criminal activities. It increases imprisonment penalties for offences relating membership of criminal gangs and display of support to gangs in public.
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 May 2011 12:31