When Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin from Guyana reached his mandatory retirement age of sixty-five years, he retired from the Judiciary. In Belize, most of the Judges that the government of Belize employs from another country, are given contracts. At the ending of their contractual agreements, the government in power decides whether to renew or not to renew their contracts. There have been some cases, where the Judges’ contracts were not renewed because of a ruling on a matter they made against the interest of the government or a political party in Belize.
Most of the Belizean Judges who are employed by the Belize Government, qualify to become Civil Service employees because in most cases they were already employed by the government as a Civil Servant.
The Belize government was left with a vacancy on the Supreme Court that had to be filled. The Prime Minister is the person who is vested with the power to make all appointments to the courts. Belize Attorney General Mike Peyrefitte said that “Senior Justice Michelle Arana would more than likely become the next Chief Justice due to the experience and length of service she had on the court since 2006”. On April 8th, 2020 Chief Justice Arana took her oath as the first Belizean woman to become Chief Justice of Belize. She is also the first Belizean and Garifuna woman to ever sit on the Supreme Court.
Justice Michelle Arana possesses outstanding credentials. She studied law at the University of the West Indies and the Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in English and Masters of Law Degree (L.L.M. with Merit) in Commercial Law. She has served as Magistrate, Crown Counsel in the D.P.P.’s Office, Registrar General of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in Belize and Legal Advisor to the Social Investment Fund. She has also worked as an attorney in Offshore Financing and as a lecturer in Business Law at the University of Belize and is a Fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute.
If Chief Justice Benjamin does not agree to extend his contract to deal with some unresolved cases and rulings that are pending in the court, then all those matters will fall on Chief Justice Arana’s shoulders. There are some matters pertaining to, decisions yet to be handed down for cases that CJ Benjamin has presided over. There is also a major case that was brought to the court recently that deals with the Redistricting of the constituencies in the country of Belize. The UDP government, the PUP, and all the political parties have a major interest in this case.
The case is still in the case management phase and must be assigned to one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. The biggest challenge CJ Michelle Arana will have is to tell the politicians in Belize to run the country and not the courts. This is a challenge that most Chief Justices in the world also have. Most Chief Justices and Justices, swear to an oath that they will grant justice after all the facts in a case have been presented to them in the courts.
The separation and the independence of the Judiciary, Executive and Legislative Branches of Government, are clearly defined in Belize and most countries constitutions. The fact is that the Executive Branch of Government is the only branch that has the enforcement capacity and the resources to execute the country’s laws. The abuse of Executive Authority by the Executive Branch of government is in violation of the constitution but in most cases, nothing can be done to the head of state and his government. Except, if the citizens of the country rally and protest against the head of state and his government, to demand their removal from office for violating the country’s constitution.