The Bar Association of Belize is considering calling for the resignation of Guyana-born Chief Justice (CJ) Kenneth Benjamin, given the extensive backlog of cases which presently exists.
This is according to media reports which state that a decision was made to delay its call in keeping with a promise made by Justice Benjamin to work on remedying the situation during his vacation time.
A publication on the issue last month in the Amandala newspaper stated that the Bar has a duty to do all within its statutory powers to ensure that outstanding judgements are delivered.
According to the newspaper, judgments customarily are expected to be handed down within three months of hearings and up to six months in extraordinary cases, but it has been reported that Justice Benjamin has delays dating back to the first year of his appointment. He was appointed to the post on September 15, 2011.
The newspaper reported that there are several cases for which no decision has been handed down, ranging from personal injury cases to banking matters, including a case involving a challenge to the sale of shares in Belize Telemedia Limited to the Belize Social Security Board.
The newspaper quoted a July 21, 7 News article which stated “the Bar is considering the option of calling for, ‘(the) voluntary resignation of the Chief Justice on the basis of a lack of confidence in his ability to deliver outstanding decisions.’”
Amandala quoted 7 News as saying “Failing that, another option is to, ‘Make a formal complaint to the appropriate body for the removal of the Chief Justice from office for misconduct, that is, the manifest failure to deliver timely decisions in breach of the constitutional right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time.”
The newspaper stated that the matter of outstanding judgments by the Supreme Court had come up even prior to Justice Benjamin’s tenure in Belize and that the Bar Association had taken on the Judiciary when Dr. Abdulai Conteh served as Chief Justice of Belize, but at the time, the contention was that there were over 50 delayed judgments, with about 60% of those pending from then Supreme Court Justice Samuel Awich.
According to the Amandala article, the allegation now is that Justice Benjamin is responsible for the bulk of the pending cases, as the other justices have tried to keep their backlogs to a minimum.
According to the document referenced by 7 News, the newspaper said, judgment is pending in 30 cases before the Supreme Court, with delays spanning from two years to five years, five months, and “most of these cases are before the Honorable Chief Justice.”
It was reported that over a year ago, Justice Benjamin had pledged to deliver on average two decisions a week to try to clear the backlog, but the contention is that he hasn’t.
“Amandala is informed by a member of the Bar…that the Bar has decided to hold back on taking any action until after September, after the court’s recess, which would allow the Chief Justice an opportunity to try to make amends during his vacation, as he has requested”, the newspaper article said.
It added that there are concerns that the extensive delay amounts to a breach of the constitutional rights of litigants to have their matters dealt with in “a reasonable time,” and there is a suggestion that a constitutional motion could be mounted on behalf of aggrieved litigants.
The newspaper said that it was informed that the matter could be raised with the Belize Advisory Council, which is an oversight body with the jurisdiction to consider the recommendations that may eventually be formalized by the Bar Association.
According to Belize Judiciary website, Justice Benjamin received his legal training from the University of the West Indies and the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago. It stated that he returned to Guyana where he practiced privately, and served as a Magistrate and the Assistant Judge Advocate for the Guyana Defence Force.
Additionally, Justice Benjamin, served on the Court of Appeal in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court sitting in both St. Lucia and St. Vincent. He also served as the Presiding Judge for the Criminal Division of the High Court in St. Lucia and the High Court Judge in Antigua, British Virgin Islands and Grenada.
Prior to his CJ appointment in Belize, he served as Chief Magistrate in Antigua and Barbuda, where he is also a citizen. Justice Benjamin, the website said is a member of the Commonwealth Magis-trates and Judges Association, a former Rotarian, a former cricket executive in Antigua and a Fellow of the Common-wealth Judicial Education Institute.