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08 March 2012
The primary objective of the Indictable Procedure (Amendment) Act (5/2011) is to provide for a trial without a jury in certain criminal cases. The amendment adds a new Section 65D, which provides that where a trial is conducted without a jury, the trial judge shall have all the power, authority and jurisdiction which he or she would have had if the trial had been conducted with a jury – including the power to determine any question and to make any finding which a jury would have had to determine if it were present. The amendment also provides an umbrella provision in Section 65E, which specifies that a reference in the laws of Belize to a jury, its verdict or finding shall be read (in relation to a trial conducted without a jury) as a reference to a judge, his or her verdict or finding. Any laws that are predicated on a trial with a jury shall also be read to include such modifications, adaptations, qualifications and exceptions as may be necessary to bring them into conformity with a trial judge sitting alone without a jury. The amendment is prospective in nature, as it applies to all cases where an accused person is committed for trial after its entry into force.
The amendment provides that in the case of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder or conspiracy to commit murder – notwithstanding any provision to the contrary contained in the Indictable Procedure Act, the Criminal Code, the Juries Act or any other law – persons committed for trial or indicted (either alone or jointly) shall be tried before a judge sitting alone without a jury.
Even in cases falling outside the above examples, the prosecution is at liberty to apply to a judge for the trial to be conducted without a jury on the grounds set out in Section 65B(2). These grounds include:
Similarly, a person charged with an offence not listed above may apply to the judge for trial without a jury based on the likelihood of an unfair trial due to pre-trial publicity. All persons charged jointly must agree to be tried without a jury in order for a judge to exercise his or her discretion in deciding on the application. Further, no appeal can lie against an order of the judge granting or refusing an application for a trial to be conducted without a jury. Where a trial is conducted without a jury, the judge must give a written decision stating the reasons for conviction or acquittal. The judge's decision can be appealed to the Court of Appeal by both the accused person/s and the prosecution.
The Juries (Amendment) Act (6/2011) furthers the objective of the Indictable Procedure (Amendment) Act by amending:
The amendment provides that Sections 16, 21 and 36 of the Juries Act shall not apply where a trial is conducted without a jury under Section 65A or Section 65B of the Indictable Procedure Act.
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