Chief Justice cautions against tampering with separation of powers doctrine

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Chief Justice Michelle Arana

At the sitting of the House of Representatives on Friday January 9, the new People’s United Party administration tabled a bill, which will seek constitutional amendments. The amendments will provide for the removal of judges if they are unable to provide timely judgements. In civil matters, judges must give written decisions and reasons for them within 120 days of hearing the matter. It is that same timeline given for appeals at the Supreme and Court of Appeal.
As it now stands there is security of tenure for judges guaranteed by the Constitution. The moves by the PUP, then, seek to interrupt this state of being.
At the opening of the Supreme Court on Monday of this week, Acting Chief Justice, Michelle Arana was cautionary to the Legislature of them interfering with the doctrine of separation of powers between the Judiciary, Excutive and the Legislature.
She explained that, “We do hope, pray and trust that these pieces of legislation, which directly impact and potentially undermine the security of tenure currently enjoyed by the judiciary do not constitute shared political posturing at the expense of the judiciary, or worse a deliberate attempt by the legislature and the executive to erode the sacred principle of independence of the judiciary, by demanding the improvement of efficiency in the delivery of judgments, and making judges subject to removal from office for failure to meet these time limits, without the legislature and the executive fulfilling their own duties by providing the essential human resources and infrastructure necessary to enable and empower judges to meet those time limits.”
Justice Arana went on to lament that while there are problems with the delivery of judgments it is largely as a result of limited resources and man power. She noted that, “We are and have been woefully under-resourced and under-funded for many years, and as a result, we suffer from chronic problems, which fundamentally and directly impact the level of our productivity and efficiency on a daily basis. These include, but are not limited to, an insufficient number of judicial personnel and support staff, the inadequate, decrepit, and unsafe physical infrastructure of chambers and courts, and a lack of essential informational technology hardware and software, to name a few. It is therefore with great interest and anticipation that the Judiciary of Belize awaits the increase in our budget, promised by this new administration.”
She also stated that, “The Judiciary fully accepts the need to be held accountable in the performance of our duties to the citizenry, whom we have the honor of serving. To this end, the judiciary has, as recently as November 2020, provided the Legislature and the Executive with an extensive list of some of the major concerns and required resources of the judiciary, which contribute extensively to judicial delays, and which directly impact and impair our level of efficiency and productivity. To date, we have not been provided with any of the requested assistance, and we have been advised that the Government of Belize simply has no money at this time.”