Constitutional structure and position of IHL in domestic law
Belize is a sovereign democratic state within the Commonwealth. It achieved independence on 21 September 1981. It is a parliamentary democracy.
The executive branch consists of the Queen of England (represented by a Governor-General) as the Chief of State and of a cabinet headed by a Prime Minister. The Westminster-style bicameral Parliament (National Assembly) consists of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives. The higher levels of jurisdiction are the Supreme Court of Judicature, the Court of Appeal and Her Majesty in Council (Privy Council).
Section 2 of the Constitution provides that the Constitution is the supreme law of Belize and that if any law is inconsistent with it, the Constitution shall prevail to the extent of the inconsistency. The Constitution contains no rules on the ratification of treaties. Legal sources in Belize include acts adopted by Parliament, UK laws and regulations (that is: laws and regulations that were in effect immediately before 21 September 1981 and laws and regulations made before that day and coming into operation on or after that day that have not been repealed, but which may have been amended by the Governor-General before 21 September 1982) and English common law.
Belize acceded to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and to the two Additional Protocols of 1977 on 29 June 1984.
Full text of the Constitution:
Part II - Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Sect. 3 - Fundamental rights and freedoms
Whereas every person in Belize is entitled to the fundamental rights rights and and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely-
a. life, liberty, security of the person, and the protection of the law;
b. freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association;
c. protection for his family life, his personal privacy, the privacy of his home and other property and recognition of his human dignity; and
d. protection from arbitrary deprivation of property,
the provisions of this Part shall have effect for the purpose of affording protection to those rights and freedoms subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the said rights and freedoms by any person does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
Sect. 6 - Protection of law
1. All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.
2. If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then, unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.
3. Every person who is charged with a criminal offence-
a. shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved or has pleaded guilty;
b. shall be informed as soon as reasonably practicable, in a language that he understands, of the nature and particulars of the offence charged;
c. shall be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
d. shall be permitted to defend himself before the court in person or, at his own expense, by a legal practitioner of his own choice;
e. shall be afforded facilities to examine in person or by his legal representative the witnesses called by the prosecution before the court, and to obtain the attendance and carry out the examination of witnesses to testify on his behalf before the court on the same conditions as those applying to witnesses called by the prosecution; and
f. shall be permitted to have without payment the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language used at the trial,
and except with his own consent the trial shall not take place in his absence unless he so conducts himself as to render the continuance of the proceedings in his presence impracticable and the court has ordered him to be removed and the trial to proceed in his absence:
Provided that the trial may take place in his absence in any case in which it is so provided by a law under which he is entitled to adequate notice of the charge and the date, time and place of the trial and to a reasonable opportunity of appearing before the court.
4. A person shall not be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any Criminal offence that is severer in degree or description than the maximum penalty that might have been imposed for that offence at the time when it was committed.
5. A person who shows that he has been tried by a competent court for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall not again be tried for that offence or for any other criminal offence of which he could have been convicted at the trial for that offence, save upon the order of a superior court in the course of appeal or review proceedings relating to the conviction or acquittal.
6. A person who is tried for a criminal offence shall not be compelled to give evidence at the trial.
7. Any court or other authority prescribed by law for the determination of the existence or extent of any civil right or obligation shall be established by law and shall be independent and impartial; and where proceedings for such a determination are instituted by any person before such a court or other authority, the case shall be given a fair hearing within a reasonable time.
8. Except with the agreement of all the parties thereto, all proceedings of every court and proceedings for the determination of the existence or extent of any civil right or obligation before any other authority, including the announcement of the decision of the court or other authority, shall be held in public.
9. Nothing in subsection (8) of this section shall prevent the court or other adjudicating authority from excluding from the proceedings persons other than the parties thereto and the legal practitioners representing them to such extent as the court or other authority
a. may by law be empowered to do and may consider necessary or expedient in circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice or in interlocutory proceedings or in the interests of public morality, the welfare of persons under the age of eighteen years or the protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings; or
b. may by law be empowered or required to do in the interests of defence, public safety or public order.
10. Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of-
a. subsection (3)(a) of this section to the extent that the law in question imposes upon any person charged with a criminal offence the burden of proving particular facts;
b. subsection (3)(e) of this section to the extent that the law in question imposes reasonable conditions that must be satisfied if witnesses called to testify on behalf of an accused person are to be paid their expenses out of public funds; or
c. subsection (5) of this section to the extent that the law in question authorises a court to by a member of a disciplined force for a criminal offence notwithstanding any trial and conviction or acquittal of that member under the disciplinary law of that force, so, however, that any court so trying such a member and convicting him shall in sentencing him to any punishment take into account any punishment awarded him under that disciplinary law.
11. In the case of any person who is held in lawful detention the provisions of subsection (2) and paragraphs (d) and (e) of subsection (3) of this section shall not apply in relation to his trial for a criminal offence under the law regulating the discipline of persons held in such detention.
12. In this section "Criminal offence" means a criminal offence under law.
Sect. 7 - Protection from inhuman treatment
No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.
Sect. 18 - Provisions for periods of public emergency
1. In this Part "period of public emergency" means any period during which -
a. Belize is engaged in any war; or
b. there is in force a proclamation by the Governor-General declaring that a state of public emergency exists; or
c. there is in force a resolution of the National Assembly declaring that democratic institutions in Belize are threatened by subversion.
2. The Governor-General may, by proclamation which shall be published in the Gazette, declare that a state of public emergency exists for the purposes of this Part.
3. A proclamation made by the Governor-General under subsection (2) of this section shall not be effective unless it contains a declaration that the Governor-General is satisfied
a. that a state of war between Belize and another State is imminent or that a public emergency has arisen as a result of the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence, outbreak of infectious disease, or other similar calamity; or
b. that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety or to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of supplies or services essential to life.
4. A proclamation made under subsection (2) of this section may be made so as to apply only to such part of Belize as may be specified in the proclamation (in this subsection called "the emergency area"), in which case regulations made under subsection (9) of this section shall except as otherwise expressly provided in such regulations have effect only in the emergency area.
5. A proclamation made by the Governor-General for the purposes of and in accordance with this section-
a. shall, unless previously revoked, remain in force for a period not exceeding one month;
b. may be extended from time to time by a resolution passed by the National Assembly for further periods, not exceeding in respect of each such extension a period of twelve months; and
c. may be revoked at any time by a resolution of the National Assembly.
6. A resolution of the National Assembly passed for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) of this section shall remain in force for two months or such shorter period as may be specified therein:
Provided that any such resolution may be extended from time to time by a further such resolution, each extension not exceeding two months from the date of the resolution effecting the extension; and any such resolution may be revoked at any time by a further resolution.
7. A resolution of the National Assembly for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) of this section, and a resolution of the National Assembly extending or revoking any such resolution, shall not be passed unless it is supported by the votes of two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives present and voting.
8. Any provision of this section that a proclamation or resolution shall lapse or cease to be in force at any particular time is without prejudice to the making of a further such proclamation or resolution whether before or after that time.
9. During any period of public emergency, the following provisions shall have effect-
a. the Governor-General may make such regulations as are necessary or expedient for securing public safety, the defence of Belize, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community;
b. any such regulations may empower such authorities or persons as may be specified in the regulations to make orders and rules for any of the purposes for which such regulations are authorised by this subsection to be made and may contain such incidental and supplementary provisions as are necessary or expedient for the purposes of the regulations;
c. any such regulations or any order or rule made in pursuance of such regulations may amend or suspend the operation of any law and shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any law;
d. in this subsection, "law" does not include this Constitution or any provision thereof or any law that alters this Constitution or any provision thereof.
10. Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law (including any regulations made under subsection (9) of this section) shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of sections 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17 of this Constitution to the extent that the law in question makes in relation to any period of public emergency provision, or authorises the doing during any such period of any thing, that is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of any situation arising or existing during the period for the purpose of dealing with that situation.
Sect. 19 - Protection of persons detained under emergency laws
1. When a person is detained by virtue of a law that authorises the taking during a period of public emergency of measures that are reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the situation that exists in Belize during that period, the following provisions shall apply, that is to say:-
a. he shall, with reasonable promptitude and in any case not more than seven days after the commencement of his detention, be informed in a language that he understands of the grounds upon which he is detained and furnished with a written statement in English specifying the particulars of those grounds;
b. not more than fourteen days after the commencement of his detention, a notification shall be published in the Gazette stating that he has been detained and giving particulars of the provision of law under which his detention is authorised;
c. not more than one month after the commencement of his detention and thereafter during his detention at intervals of not more than three months, his case shall be reviewed by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and presided over by a person appointed by the Chief Justice from among persons who are legal practitioners;
d. he shall be afforded reasonable facilities for private communication and consultation with a legal practitioner of his own choice who shall be permitted to make representations to the tribunal appointed for the review of the case of the detained person; and
e. at the hearing of his case by the tribunal appointed for the review of his case he shall be permitted to appear in person or to be represented by a legal practitioner of his own choice.
2. On any review by a tribunal in pursuance of this section of the case of a detained person, the tribunal may make recommendations concerning the necessity or expediency of continuing his detention to the authority by which it was ordered but, unless it is otherwise provided by law, that authority shall not be obliged to act in accordance with any such recommendations.
3. Nothing contained in subsection (1)(d) or subsection (1)(e) of this section shall be construed as entitling a person to legal representation at public expense.
Sect. 20 - Enforcement of protective provisions
1. If any person alleges that any of the provisions of sections 3 to 19 inclusive of this Constitution has been, is being or is likely to be contravened in relation to him (or, in the case of a person who is detained, if any other person alleges such a contravention in relation to the detained person), then, without prejudice to any other action with respect to the same matter which is lawfully available, that person (or that other person) may apply to the Supreme Court for redress.
2. The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction-
a. to bear and determine any application made by any person in pursuance of subsection (1) of this section; and
b. to determine any question arising in the case of any person which is referred to it in pursuance of subsection (3) of this section,
and may make such declarations and orders, issue such writs and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for the purpose of enforcing or securing the enforcement of any of the provisions of sections 3 to 19 inclusive of this Constitution:
Provided that the Supreme Court may decline to exercise its powers under this subsection if it is satisfied that adequate means of redress for the contravention alleged are or have been available to the person concerned under any other law.
3. If in any proceedings in any court (other than the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court or a court-martial) any question arises as to the contravention of any of the provisions of sections 3 to 19 inclusive of this Constitution, the person presiding in that court may, and shall if any party to the proceedings so requests, refer the question to the Supreme Court unless, in his opinion, the raising of the question is merely frivolous or vexatious.
4. Any person aggrieved by any determination of the Supreme Court under this section may appeal therefrom to the Court of Appeal:
Provided that no appeal shall lie from a determination of the Supreme Court under this section dismissing an application on the grounds that it is frivolous or vexatious.
5. Where any question is referred to the Supreme Court in pursuance of subsection (3) of this section, the Supreme Court shall give its decision upon the question and the court in which the question arose shall dispose of the case in accordance with that decision or, if that decision is the subject of an appeal to the Court of Appeal or to Her Majesty in Council, in accordance with the decision of the Court of Appeal or, as the can may be, of Her Majesty in Council.
6. Notwithstanding the validity of any law under section 9(2), 10(3), 11(5), 12(2), 13(2) or 16(4)(d) of this Constitution, any act or thing done under the authority of such law shall be unlawful if such act or thing is shown not to be reasonably required in the actual circumstances in which it is done.
7. The Supreme Court shall have such powers in addition to those conferred by this section as may be conferred on it by the National Assembly for the purpose of enabling it more effectively to exercise the jurisdiction conferred on it by this section.
8. The Chief Justice may make rules with respect to the practice and procedure of the Supreme Court in relation to the jurisdiction and powers conferred on it by or under this section (including rules with respect to the time within which applications may be brought and references shall be made to the Surpreme Court).
Sect. 21 - Existing laws
Nothing contained in any law in force immediately before Independence Day nor anything done under the authority of any such law shall, for a period of five years after Independence Day, be held to be inconsistent with or done in contravention of any of the provisions of this Part.
Sect. 22 - Interpretation and savings
1. In this Part, unless the context otherwise requires-
"contravention", in relation to any requirement, includes a failure to comply with that requirement, and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly;
"court" means any court of law having jurisdiction in Belize other than a court established by a disciplinary law, and includes Her Majesty in Council and in sections 4 and 8 of this Constitution a court established by a disciplinary law;
"disciplinary law" means a law regulating the discipline of any disciplined force;
"disciplined force" means-
a. a naval, military or air force;
b. the Police Force;
c. a prison service; or
d. any such other force or service as may be prescribed by the National Assembly;
"legal practitioner" means a person admitted and enrolled as an attorney-at-law under the laws of Belize;
"member", in relation to a disciplined force, includes any person who, under the law regulating the discipline of that force, is subject to that discipline.
2. In relation to any person who is a member of a disciplined force of Belize, nothing contained in or done under the authority of the disciplinary law of that force shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of any of the provisions of this Part other than sections 4. 7 and 8 of this Constitution.
3. In relation to any person who is a member of a disciplined force of a country other than Belize that is lawfully present in Belize, nothing contained in or done under the authority of the disciplinary law of that force shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of any of the provisions of this Part.