DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF BELIZE
The legal system of Belize is based initially on the common law of England and is adversarial in nature. Legislation or Acts or statute law is considered a primary source of reference. Parliament is responsible for the law making process.
Structure, composition, and jurisdiction
Section 94 (Chapter 7) of the Constitution of Belize establishes Belize's Supreme Court of Judicature and Court of Appeal. The judiciary, which is one of the three separate arms of the State, is headed by the Chief Justice, who has overall responsibility for the administration of justice in Belize.
The Supreme Court has unlimited original jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings under any law. In its criminal jurisdiction, a Judge sits with a jury made up of 12 members for capital offence cases and made up of 9 members for non-capital offence cases. The Court in its criminal jurisdiction sits 4 times or holds four sessions in the calendar year in each of the 3 judicial districts. The country is divided into three districts for this purpose. These are the Northern, Southern, and Central districts. This is for convenience and for the participation of all citizens as jurors from throughout the country. In this very way, accused persons can truly be tried by their peers, which is a fundamental principle in the jury trial system.
There are three Supreme Court Judges. These are the Chief Justice and 2 other judges, known as Puisne Judges. The Supreme Court's three judges are all male.
The Court of Appeal exercises an appellate jurisdiction over both the High Court and Magistracy and has jurisdiction and powers to hear and determine appeals in civil and criminal matters. While this Court is established with a President and three Justices of Appeal, a panel of three Justices sits at any one time.
The Court of Appeal may sit in Belize 4 times for the year; however, in practice it usually sits 3 times. A lot depends on the number of cases on its calendar. The present composition is made up of 1 resident Belizean and 3 visiting Justices, including the President, from the Commonwealth Caribbean jurisdictions. The four Justices of Appeal are all male.
The Privy Council, which is the final court for Belize, sits in the United Kingdom. Appeals from the Court of Appeal lie to the Privy Council, sometimes as of right and sometimes with leave of the Court. The Privy Council is made up primarily of members of the United Kingdom's House of Lords. In recent years there have been appointments from the Commonwealth jurisdiction. The membership is predominantly male.
Appointment of the Judiciary
Under the Constitution of Belize, the Chief Justice is appointed by the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.
Justices of the Supreme Court, other than the Chief Justice, are appointed by the Governor General. The Governor General acts in accordance with the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service section of the Public Services Commission and with the concurrence of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Justices of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the Governor General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, for such period as may be specified in the instrument of appointment. The qualification for appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court is a minimum of five years standing as an attorney-at-law.
The qualification for appointment as a Justice of the Court of Appeal is 15 years standing as an attorney-at-law or the holding of office as a judge of a court of unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters or of a court having appellate jurisdiction from any such court.
Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed with security of tenure and hold office, subject to removal for inability or misbehavior, until the age of sixty-two (62). Justices of Appeal hold office, subject to removal for inability or misbehavior, until the expiration of their periods of appointment or until resignation.