Comparative law and justice/Belize

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Part of the Comparative law and justice Wikiversity Project

Basic Information

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Location of Belize
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Victoria peak
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Belize City

Belize is a country located in the Central American region of North America. It is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, as well as Guatemala on its south and west. The total landmass of Belize is 8,866 sq. miles, making it slightly larger then the state of Massachusetts[1]. Outside the mainland and on the coast of Belize lie many coral and mangrove isles known as cayes which are located along the World's second largest barrier reef, second only to Australia's. On the mainland of Belize, the northern half consists of lowlands, many of which are swampy and uninhabitable, and you will find that the southern half is just the opposite consisting of various mountain ranges including the Maya mountains which reach a maximum elevation of 3,675 feet atop Victoria Peak[2]. Belize has a subtropical climate where the temperature ranges from 50 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit towards the coast where the trade winds come in effect, and it is even warmer as you go inland[3].

The population of Belize is 307,899 as of July 2009, 37.9% are 0 to 14 years old (male 59,462/female 57,117), 58.6% are 15 to 64 years old (male 91,298/female 89,170), and 3.5% are 65 years or over (male 5,185/female 5,667)[4]. The country of Belize is broken up into several districts including Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo[5]. Of these districts, the district of Belize is the most populated and this is mainly because Belize city lies in this district. With a population of approximately 65,200 Belize city is the most highly populated city of its country[6]. Other cities with large populations include San Ignacio(19,100), Orange Walk(16,300), Dangriga(12,000), and Belize's capital Belmopan(18,100).

The citizens of Belize have a wide range of religions,ethnicities, and languages. Belize's religions include Roman Catholic 49.6%, Protestant 27% (Pentecostal 7.4%, Anglican 5.3%, Seventh-day Adventist 5.2%, Mennonite 4.1%, Methodist 3.5%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.5%), other 14%, and none 9.4%[7]. Their ethnicities include Mestizo 48.7%, Creole 24.9%, Maya 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, and 9.7% of others[8]. When it comes to the languages in Belize, English is their official language and even though only 5.6% of Belizeans speak English at home, 54% can speak it very well and 26% can speak some English[9]. Other languages include Spanish 43%, kriol 37%, Maya kek'chi 4.5%, Maya mopan 3%, Garifuna 2%, Plautdietsch 3.2%, and a few others that add up to less than 1%[10].

Brief History

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The history of Belize goes all the way back to between 1500 B.C. and A.D. 300 when the Mayan civilization spread into the area. The Mayans flourished in this territory and built many historic sites which still exist today including Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich. European contact began in 1502 when Columbus sailed along the coast, but it wasn't until 1638 when the first European settlement was recorded due to shipwrecked English seamen[11]. Over the next century and a half more and more English settlements were established during a period of time where piracy, logging, and frequent attacks by Indians and Spanish settlements where quite common. In 1798, the territory experienced its first documented battle known as the battle of the St. George's Caye where the British defeated the Spanish in order to claim the land. In 1840 the territory officially became a colony of Great Britain, and it was called British Honduras. Finally, the countries name was changed to Belize in 1973 and it became independent on September 21st 1981.

Economic Development, Health, and Education

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The Gross Domestic Product of Belize is 2.534 billion, and 8,200 per capita[12]. Economic sectors of Belize include 29% agriculture (bananas, cacao, citrus, sugar, fish, cultured shrimp, lumber, garments), 16.9% industry (garment production, food processing, tourism, construction, oil), and 54.1% in services[13]. The key imports include machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, beverages, and tobacco, and there exports are mainly sugar, bananas, citrus, clothing, fish products, molasses, wood, and crude oil[14]. The unit of currency is the Belize dollar, and the exchange rate using U.S. dollars is on a two-to-one ratio, two Belize dollars equals one U.S. dollar.

The infant mortality rate in Belize is 23.07 deaths per 1,000 live births (male: 26 deaths/1,000, female: 19.99 deaths/1,000)[15]. Males have a life expectancy of 66.44 years while women have a life expectancy of 70.05 years[16]. The literacy percentage of males in Belize is 76.7% and for females it is 77.1% which ranks fairly high compared to its neighboring countries. Also, the average school life expectancy is 13 years for both males and females[17].


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Belize is a Common Law country with Parliamentary Democracy as their form of government which happens to be based on the British model. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and she is represented in Belize by Governor General Colville N. Young Sr. in addition to Belize's second governor general[18]. Prime minister Dean Oliver Barrow is head of the government and has the responsibility of leading the cabinet. There is a bicameral National Assembly with a 12 seat appointed Senate and a 31 seat elected House of Representatives. Out of the 12 members of the Senate, 6 are appointed with the advice of the prime minister, 3 with the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee each advise the Governor General on the appointment of one Senator each[19]. All of these members serve a maximum of 5 year terms. Due to a large number of Belizeans who participated in the referendum held during the last national elections in February 2008, there will be a change from an appointed Senate to an elected Senate. Belize citizens voted in favor of this change and it will become effective for the 2013 elections. Belize has a Constitution which divided the government into three branches including the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary[20]. Laws are made in the Legislative branch of government by its National Assembly. Belize achieved full independence on September 21, 1981 and is now a member of the British Commonwealth, the United Nations and the Non-Alligned Movement[21].


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The voting age in Belize is 18 for both men and women, and elections are held no longer than five years apart. Voting is done at the individuals own free will, it is not mandatory for them to vote but it is recommended. The Prime Minister has the right to determine the date of the general elections. Belize has two major political parties including the United Democratic Party and the Peoples United Party.

Judicial Review

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Judicial review does have a significant role in the Belize government. An individual or group wishing to challenge the legality of a governmental decision must start by filing an application. The matter then comes up during a hearing where the Chief Justice is in charge of delivering a decision on the issue.

Courts and Criminal Law

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Districts of Belize

There are several different types of courts in Belize beginning with the district magistrates. Each of Belize's six districts have a Summary Jurisdiction Court as well as a District Court making up these district magistrates. The difference between the two is that the Summary Jurisdiction Courts hear criminal cases where the District Courts hear civil cases. For the most part these magistrates have jurisdiction in less serious cases of criminal law and may issue fines and prison sentences up to 6 months. The next level of court is the Supreme Court which has unlimited jurisdiction for both criminal and civil cases. The Supreme Court usually deals with the more serious cases as well as handling appeals from the magistrates' courts. Lastly there is a Court of Appeal which hears appeals from the Supreme Court.

Belize has an adversarial legal system. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty as well as given their rights to be informed of the nature and particulars of the charges. Another important right granted to the defendants in more serious criminal cases is the right to trial by jury[22].


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There are approximately 1,100 prisoners in Belize which may not seem like a lot but when you compare it with this countries small population it is very high. There are 459 prisoners per every 100,000 people ranking it 5th out of 164 different nations[23]. 6.4% of the prisoners in Belize are female, and according to the US Country Report on Human Rights Practices in 2007 the prison conditions are extremely poor. There is only one prison in Belize, the Hattieville Central Prison, and it is designated to hold a maximum of 1,200 prisoners[24]. During the time the US made their visit to this prison their were 1,377 inmates, including 26 women and 35 adolescents which shows how there is an overcrowding issue. In addition to the overcrowding, some other issues include the brutalization on the prisoners by the prison officials, the withholding of food and water as punishment to the prisoners, conducted strip searches and beatings, and the extortion of money for transfers to better conditions[25]. Pretrial detainees are held separately from convicted inmates, and only male juveniles are to be held in this prison. Female juveniles who are charged or convicted are not incarcerated by the Belize government, instead they are placed in the care of the government social services authorities [26]. Although male juveniles are incarcerated and held at the Hattieville Central Prison, they live in a separate facility which is located outside the main perimeter fence.

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Magistrates in Belize do not have to be trained lawyers, and for some reason they have been tough to find resulting in a backlog of cases which may be a significant factor of why the criminal justice system of this country is falling apart[27]. The head of the Supreme Court is the Chief Justice, who is appointed by the Governor General with advice from the Prime Minister as well as the Leader of the Opposition. Judges of the Supreme Court are also appointed by the Governor General and they can serve until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 62. The key actors in the Court of Appeal are a President whom is again appointed by the Governor General and two appointed judges to serve on the court. There is no given age of retirement for these office holders.

Law Enforcement

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Police during riot

Law enforcement in Belize is controlled by the Belize Police Department which is the only department which serves this country, making it a Centralized Single System. Although this is the only police department in the country, each district has at least one sub division. As of March 2008 Belize has about 1,073 sworn officers and 141 civilian employees. Ranks of these officers include the Commissioner of Police, Deputy Commissioner, Assistant Commissioners, Senior Superintendents, Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Inspectors, Sergeants, Corporals, and Constables ranked highest to lowest. The civilian employees are the individuals who handle services such as dispatching, records, finances, forensic evidence, and other administrative duties. This police department is broken up into two separate branches which are the Operational and the Administrative branches, both controlled by the Assistant Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner. The visions and values these officers work towards including community partnership, best practices in policing, ethics and integrity, management and organizational efficiency and effectiveness, and to be able to identify, prioritize and solve problems. Like many countries, Belize does deal with corruption mainly by citizens, government bureaucrats, party politicians, and businesses, creating a public distrust around the country[28]. Belize does have a military called the Belize Defence Force whose mission is to support the civil authorities in the maintenance of order in Belize, as well as other duties which are assigned by the governor general[29]. When selecting these soldiers they hold recruiting drives with a goal of producing disciplined civilians who are both mentally and physically fit with an ability to work in harsh conditions. Upon being selected these individuals are then trained to become infantry soldiers. Partners of the Belize Defence Force include the Belize Police Department, the British Army, the National Emergency Management Organization, and the Customs department[30].

Crime Rates and Public Opinion

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Crime is one of Belize's major problems, and it is dangerously on the rise. The most common crime is theft and it can come in a variety of forms including armed robbery, purse snatching, and pick pocketing. Belize has also become a transshipment point for drugs, most commonly cocaine and cannabis which has resulted in lots of money laundering activity. Shootings, stabbings, murder, and rape are also suspected to be on the rise. Crime in Belize is most common in Belize city but it is not unusual for crimes to be reported in other parts of the country including San Pedro, Cay Caulker, and Placencia[31]. The majority of crime happens in these areas because they have a high volume of tourists who are easy targets for the criminals especially in unsafe areas. There is also an increase in crime around the holidays and spring break. Because a large amount of crime occurs in resort areas there is a lack of reporting on these issues because the resort does not want future tourists to know about these problems. In 2008 there were 103 homicides making a homicide rate of 34 per 100,000 people which has more then doubled since 2000[32]. Along with the homicide increase, the total number of reported robberies, burglaries, and thefts has also increased about 7.5% to 3,248. According to, human trafficking has become a major transnational issue for Belize including the trafficking of men, women, and children for both labor and sexual exploitation [33]. Trafficking in Belize has become easy because of the lack of monitoring their borders with their neighboring countries including Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Many people are concerned about the increase of crime in Belize and the criminal justice system of the country is not responding to the issue. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns is the decreasing number of tourists visiting the country. Because tourism is responsible for approximately 300 million U.S. dollars each year and it is one of their largest sectors of the economy they must react to this crime issue throughout their country if they want this income.

Family Law

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Marriage is an important part of the Belize culture. In order for non-Belize citizens to get married in this country there are several requirements that must be met. First, the couples willing to get married have to reside in Belize for at least three days, and it isn't until the fourth day that they become eligible to apply for a Belize marriage[34]. After applying, the couples need to fill out a form which can either be found at the Supreme Court building, the General Registry counter, or the Attorney General's office. After full completion of the form, the next step is to get it signed by the Justice of Peace where a photo ID or passport for each individual is mandatory along with a photo copy of the couples arrival in Belize. Lastly, a license fee of 100 U.S. dollars is paid and with two witnesses, the couple is all set to get married. A Belizean wedding is simple and is conducted in the same way as in the United States usually celebrated in a church followed by a colorful reception with food, drinks, and dancing. In order to adopt a child in Belize, the government requires that at least one of the parents is above age 25 in addition to being at least 12 years older than the child. Also, single men are usually not allowed to adopt female children but this restriction can be waived by the decision of the court. Adoption of Belize children is also allowed for non-citizens but it is much more complicated. He or she must not have a criminal record, they must have a current recommendation concerning his or her suitability to adopt a child from his or his probation and welfare office or other competent authority, and has satisfied the court that his or her country of origin will respect and recognize the adoption order[35]. There is no inheritance tax in Belize[36].

Social Inequality

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Social inequality is a problem in Belize. Studies show that in 2005 the estimated average income for an average male is more than double the estimated average income for an average female, men made an average of 10,117 U.S. dollars were women made an average of 4,022 U.S. dollars[37]. Along with the large gap between the male and female's average income, their unemployment averages are very different as well. This same study shows that the female adult unemployment rate is at about 17.2% where the males is at 7.5%. These statistics are examples of gender inequality in the form of employment. Although inequality does exist in Belize, the government is working towards eliminating this problem. Previous framework laid down by the government to help minimize social inequality include the Minimum Age Act, the Sexual Harrassment Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Families and Children Act, and the Juvenile Offenders Act[38]. These several acts along with others has given the Belize government enough satisfaction to move on to other problems not realizing that this issue is not quite fixed and continues to be a reality.

Human Rights

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Overall, the government of Belize respects the human rights of its citizens and does their best to avoid any violations of them. Some human rights problems in Belize include killings, the use of excessive force by security forces, lengthy pretrial detentions, domestic violence, discrimination against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking of persons for sexual or labor exploitation, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and child labor[39]. The fundamental rights protected by this legal system are broken up into 7 different sections. Section 1 regards the respect for the integrity of the person, including freedom from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life; disappearance; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest or detention; denial of fair public trial; and arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence. Section 2 regards the respect for Civil Liberties, including freedom of speech and press; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; freedom of religion; and freedom of movement, internally displaced persons, protection of refugees, and stateless persons. Section 3 regards the respect for political rights: the right of the citizens to change their government. Section 4 regards the official corruption and government transparency. Section 5 regards the governmental attitude regarding international and nongovernmental investigation of alleged violations of human rights. Section 6 regards discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons. And lastly section 7 regards workers rights, including the right of association; the right to organize and bargain collectively; prohibition of forced or compulsory labor; prohibition or child labor and minimum age for employment; and acceptable conditions of work.

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