The Supreme Court
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 jurisdiction to hear civil and criminal matters as well as appeals from the lower Courts. The Court is headed by the Chief Justice and currently consists of 8 other Justices of which 4 are assigned to the civil division (includes matrimonial and family matters) and 4 to the criminal division of the Court. The Chief Justice sits in both criminal and civil divisions.
The civil division of the Court also has jurisdiction to deal with matrimonial and family matters including property rights, divorce proceedings (and other matters ancillary thereto) and adoptions.
The Registrar of the Supreme Court is in charge of the Supreme Court Registry. The Registrar whose functions are both judicial and administrative is assisted by two Deputy Registrars and an Assistant Registrar.
The Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal exercises an appellate jurisdiction with power to hear and determine appeals in both civil and criminal matters.
The court held its first sitting in Belize on March 25, 1969, and now sits three times a year in March, June and October. The duration of each session depends on the number of matters scheduled for hearing in a particular session. Presently, each session lasts three weeks with the dedication of the first two weeks of the session primarily to the hearing of criminal appeals. A panel of three judges presides at any one time upon the hearing of any civil or criminal matter.
There are currently four judges of the Court of Appeal which comprises of the President, who is presently a resident Belizean and three other judges, two of which are from the Commonwealth Caribbean.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was established in 2001 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. It has two jurisdictions: an original jurisdiction and an appellate jurisdiction. In its original jurisdiction, the CCJ is an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in respect of interpretation and application of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in its appellate. In its appellate jurisdiction, the CCJ hears appeals as the final court both in Civil and Criminal matters. Member states who have acceded to it as their final court as of 2011 are Barbados, Belize and Guyana (Prior to the CCJ, Belize’s final court was the British Privy Council).
In 2009, a constitutional amendment was introduced in the Legislature of Belize providing for its accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ with effect from June 1, 2010. This legislation is the Caribbean Court of Justice Act No 5 of 2010 which sets out the guidelines and procedures of the Court as it pertains to Belize as our final court.
Permission to appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice is required and must be sought for from the Belize Court of Appeal. Some appeals are as of right and the legislation stipulates the determination of these. In the granting of leave to appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice, there are certain conditions which are required to be met and the Court stipulates these in accordance with the legislation.