Opening of the new Legal Year- meager human and financial resources

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Chief Justice Michelle Arana

Normally, the opening of the new Legal Year is marked with much pomp and circumstance as members of Belize’s judiciary march their way along Regent Street to the steps of the courthouse in downtown Belize City. This year’s event was different with the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court having been launched virtually on Monday, January 18, 2021. Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana delivered the inaugural address which addressed a dull reality, the overwhelming demands that are simply not being met.
There is an excess of undelivered rulings and pending rulings but Justice Arana says that the judicial system is attempting to become more efficient and effective. In fact, she says that this has always been the intent when delivering and administering justice. She recognizes that resources are lacking, both human and financial, which have caused these bottlenecks within the judicial system.
In that vein, there does not seem to be much good news in the future as the budget for the judiciary’s 2020-2021 activities has been further reduced. There are now $9,182,365 dollars, versus the previous year’s $10,101,654, which the system must stretch to extend across all its necessities for the next year. According to Acting Chief Justice Arana, the “harsh reality is that the optimal judicial system” which is desired is not possible nor “attainable on the present underwhelming and inadequate shoestring budget, especially under the present dire circumstances.”
But this is not a new problem. She says that they have been, for years, “woefully under-resources and under-funded” and that has caused an ingrained problem which directly impacts the productivity and efficiency of the justice system. It would be remiss not to accept that the backlog of cases has also been affected by COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, courtrooms were not able to sit nor act in their full capacities due to COVID-19 safety measures which were put in place.
One good note, however, is word of the intention to modernize the justice system with the implementation of an e-filing system, an electronic payment system, and virtual trials. Furthermore, there is the expectation for the recruitment of new judges to fill vacancies and to lessen the burdensome workload before the courts.