Guyana-born Belize CJ will be unable to meet backlogged judgments deadline

-may still face removal proceedings

Despite assurances, Guyana-born Chief Justice (CJ) of Belize Kenneth Benjamin will be unable to deliver all 32 of his delayed judgments and this could result in the Belize Bar Association making good on its threat to file proceedings to have him removed from office for misconduct.

Amandala newspaper in a December 12 publication reported that Justice Benjamin will be unable to conclude the backlog by the end of the legal year.

“The old maxim that `justice delayed is justice denied,’ has once more come to the forefront as it relates to the delayed judgments of Chief Justice Benjamin, some of which date as far back as 2010 and will not be completed by the end of the legal year next month, when the Supreme Court has its ceremonial opening to mark the beginning of the 2018 legal year”, the newspaper said.

There is considerable local interest in this matter as it has been reported that Justice Benjamin is under consideration to become the Chancellor of the Judiciary here.

Justice Kenneth Benjamin

Based on questions from another media outfit, News5, Attorney General (AG), Michael Peyrefitte indicated that it would have been too difficult for the CJ to complete all 32 judgments within the limited timeframe. The CJ had indicated that he would have completed the backlogged cases by December 15.

“But a couple weeks ago, he told me that he had full intention of completing at least twenty-two of them. Yesterday, he told me that he did complete twenty-two of the judgments, and so he is still ten short; but out of the thirty-two, we can say that he has concluded a significant number of those judgments,” Peyrefitte was quoted as saying.

Peyrefitte added, “So I am sure the Bar Association will take a position on it, but I think that the Chief Justice has now fully appreciated, I mean he always did appreciate the impact of not delivering the judgments, but he has fully appreciated the extreme seriousness of it. So from now on we hope that he would do more to ensure that that type of backlog does not build up anymore, and he has every confidence of that going forward.”

“…Come next year he will have to find the time in addition to the duties that he has on a day-to-day basis. He just has to find the time to produce them, and it’s not that he doesn’t want to produce them. He wants to produce them, so let’s see what happens in the New Year,” Peyrefitte remarked.

The Amandala newspaper reported that Justice Benjamin, came under the scrutiny of the Belize Bar Association in September, when the Bar passed a resolution calling on him to deliver delayed judgments for the 32 cases that he has heard but on which he had not yet issued a ruling. The Bar had threatened to move for his removal from office for misconduct.

News5 had reported in its September 18, 2017 edition that on the evening of September 15, the Bar Association of Belize met in Belize City and unanimously passed a stern resolution resolving that if the CJ does not comply with his schedule, he must resign in writing to the Governor-General, or risk a complaint for his removal with the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.  The Bar contended that the CJ flirted with misbehaviour in office by not affording litigants their right under the constitution to a fair hearing within a reasonable time, and that they have lost confidence in his ability to perform and discharge the functions of his office – trust that President Pricilla Banner admits will be difficult to get back.

Shortly after the Bar voted on its resolution, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow had announced that two retired judges from the Caribbean would be hired to assist the Chief Justice in writing the delayed judgments.

Mistake

The newspaper stated that that was a mistake on the part of the Prime Minister, and something that is impractical, since according to legal sources judges cannot write judgments for cases that they have not heard. AG Peyrefitte had confirmed that indeed no judges would be hired to assist the Chief Justice with his backlog.

Days prior to the December 12 report, PM Barrow told reporters following the House of Representatives meeting, that the CJ was not receptive to the idea of judges being hired to assist him, and was resolved to write his judgments by himself.

In August, the Bar Association had publicly expressed its desire to consider calling on Justice Benjamin to resign but took a decision to delay its call in keeping with a promise made by the CJ to work on remedying the situation during his vacation time.

Customarily judgments are expected to be handed down within three months of hearings and up to six months in extraordinary cases.

Justice Benjamin who is also a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda was appointed to the post on September 15, 2011.

According to the 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 practised 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. Justice Benjamin, the website said is a member of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, a former Rotarian, a former cricket executive in Antigua and a Fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute.

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