Section 3 of the Constitution of Belize (the “Constitution”) provides that every person in Belize is “entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual” regardless of sex. Section 16 of the Constitution also prohibits any laws that are discriminatory or have discriminatory effect and defines “discriminatory” to include discrimination based on sex.
Women and Justice: Location
The Belize Criminal Code defines and criminalizes rape, including marital rape (Sections 46, 71-74); carnal knowledge of female child (Section 47); procuring or attempting to procure a woman (Section 49-50); compulsion of marriage (Section 58); incest by males (Section 62); abortion, miscarriage, and child destruction (Sections 111-12, 127). The Code mandates a minimum sentence of eight years for rape (Section 46), 12 years of carnal knowledge of a female child (Section 47), and a life sentence for habitual sex offenders (Section 48).
Of particular note:
- Marital rape under Section 72 requires a showing that the spouses have separated, the marriage is dissolved, an order or injunction has been made, granted or undertaken against the spouse, or that the sexual intercourse was preceded or accompanied by assault and battery. Lack of consent is not enough if the parties are married.
- The Criminal Code also criminalizes same-sex relationships under Section 53, which criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal.”
- Abortion and the aiding of abortion are felonies and carry a prison term of 14 years to imprisonment for life under Section 111. There are limited exceptions under Section 112 if two registered medical practitioners agree that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother or her family or if the child may be seriously handicapped.
Belize enacted the Domestic Violence Act #19 in 2000 to provide greater protection and assistance to domestic violence victims. It was enacted in recognition of the pervasive nature of domestic violence in Belize society in order to increase the resources available to deal with domestic violence cases. The Domestic Violence Act defines domestic violence and governs protective orders, occupation orders, tenancy orders, other orders relating to counselling, the use of furniture and household effects, payment of rent, mortgage, utilities and compensation for any monetary loss due to domestic violence. Where a protective order or interim protective order is violated, the individual violating the order may be liable to a fine of up to $5,000 or to imprisonment for up to six months. (Section 21)
Under the Married Person (Protection) Act, a married woman can apply for an order that she is not “bound to cohabit with her husband,” for legal custody of children under the age 16, and for maintenance. A married woman’s application for one of these orders must include either a husband’s assault on her of requisite seriousness, desertion, cruelty, willful neglect to provide maintenance, the husband is a “habitual drunkard,” the husband had a venereal disease and insisted on sex, the husband compelled her to prostitution, or adultery. The same orders are available to a husband, but on more limited grounds: the wife is a “habitual drunkard,” cruelty, adultery, or desertion. The Supreme Court may still make an order for the judicial separation of a husband and wife and for the payment of alimony, which is separate from the legal options available under this Act.
The Protection Against Sexual Harassment Act defines “unwelcome sexual advances,” outlines actionable forms of sexual harassment, and the process for filing a complaint with the court. It is the court that may then carry out investigations and “may endeavor by such means as it considers reasonable to resolve a complaint.” This Act also penalizes retribution and retaliation against complainants or witnesses, as well as false complaints.
Section 74 of the Evidence Act governs “[r]estrictions on evidence at trials for rape.” This section provides that when a man is being prosecuted for rape or attempted rape, the “sexual experience of a complainant with a person other than that defendant” is inadmissible. The exception to this rule is if a judge is satisfied that it would be unfair to the defendant to refuse to allow the evidence. Under Section 92(3), a judge has discretion to warn the jury of the “special need for caution” when the prosecution relies only on the testimony of the accuser where a person is “prosecuted for rape, attempted rape, carnal knowledge or any other sexual offence.”
The Families and Children Act governs the rights of a child, legal capacity and disabilities of children, guardianship and custody of children, status of children, support of children by government, maintenance rights and duties of members of the family as between themselves, maintenance of persons in public institutions, maintenance during divorce, separation or nullity, parentage of children, care and protection of children, foster-care, approved children homes, adoption, and the establishment of the National Committee for Families and Children.
The issues in the preliminary hearing for this case were (i) whether the parties were involved in a common law union and what the material dates of that union were and (ii) whether an agreement entered into between the parties barred the applicant from bringing her claim for maintenance and division of property. The applicant alleged that the parties lived together as man and wife for eight years. The respondent claimed the first two years involved a sexual relationship only and that they did not live as man and wife for the last four years of their relationship because the relationship was unstable. He also contended that the parties had “more of a business relationship.” Under Belize law, a “common law union” is a “relationship that is established when a man and woman who are not legally married to each other and to any other person cohabit together continuously as husband and wife for a period of at least five years.” The court analyzed the evidence of the relationship and found the respondent’s evidence to be “lacking in credibility.” The court found there to have been a common law union for eight years.
The petitioner applied to court for dissolution of marriage on the ground of respondent’s adultery, which was granted in 2010. The petitioner then filed for maintenance for herself and their children as well as for other miscellaneous amounts for loans and medical expenses. The court granted maintenance, which was being garnished from respondent’s salary. The respondent contested the continuation of these payments. Under Belize law, upon divorce the court has discretion to order a husband to pay maintenance to his former wife in an amount the court may think to be reasonable for the remainder of her life. The court ordered a continuation of monthly maintenance payments based on the “practice that maintenance is generally awarded on the basis of one-third of the joint incomes of the parties, less the wife’s income” in order to “supply the former wife with the necessaries, comforts, and advantages incidental to her social position.” The claims for loans and medical expenses were dismissed.
The claimant brought a claim of damages for unlawful termination of employment because she alleged she was terminated before her two-year contract had run despite a positive one-year evaluation. She claimed her contract was not renewed because she made reports of sexual harassment by her supervisor to the police. However, that report was made four months after the claimant was informed of the decision not to renew her contract. The court also determined that her contract was a one-year contract. As a result, her claim was dismissed. However, the court “condemn[ed] in the strongest possible terms the exploitation and degradation of women by predatory male behavior in the workplace” and found that the respondent “has an obligation to not sweep these grave allegations under the rug.” The court urged an investigation into the alleged conduct by claimant’s supervisor and for the respondent to “duly penalize such behavior if substantiated, in keeping with Belize’s national and international obligations to protect the rights of women and children from sexual exploitation under treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence and Discrimination Against Women.”
The Attorney-General of Belize brought a claim under Belize’s Civil Procedure Rules to declare the marriage between the respondent and a 16-year-old minor null and void under the Marriage Act because it was executed without the consent of the child’s father. Section 5 of the Marriage Act requires the consent of both parents before a minor can marry. The court granted the respondent’s application to dismiss the claim because the Attorney-General should have commenced the action by petition under the Matrimonial Causes Rules.
The claimant alleged that her common law husband passed away without a will. His son, the defendant, attempted to evict her from the home she shared with the deceased prior to his death. The claimant responded by bringing this administrative action to remove the son as the deceased’s personal representative and to be recognized as one of the lawful beneficiaries of the estate. The son and the deceased’s other children from previous relationships alleged that the claimant was merely their father’s caretaker, but could provide no evidence she was ever paid and could not explain why she lived with their father prior to him falling ill. Under Belize law, a common law union is defined as “an unmarried man and an unmarried woman, who share a mutual commitment publicly to live their life together as a couple and in fact do so for a continuous period of five years or more.” The typical signs of such a union are that the parties “share the same household; the relationship is stable; there is financial support or the pooling of financial resources; there is a sexual relationship; there is public acknowledgement of the relationship and there may be children.” The court analyzed all evidence presented on the nature of the claimant’s relationship with the deceased and held that the claimant was “the female party to a common-law union with [the deceased] up until the time of his death” and so she was a lawful beneficiary of the estate.
The claimant underwent an exploratory surgery at age 21 to assess the cause of abdominal pain associated with bleeding. During that surgery the doctor removed her womb and left ovary without her consent or a second opinion. The defendants accepted liability and the court was asked to assess damages for breach of duty and for pain and suffering. Under Belize law, the court must restore the claimant to “the position in which she would have been, had it not been for the negligent act.” The claimant’s psychologist explained the psychological impact on the claimant for her loss of “femaleness” and her struggles with “depression, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.” To quantify her damages, claimant referred the court to awards for infertility in a “woman with severe depression and anxiety” in Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases. The claimant also pointed to a few foreign cases that quantified similar damages. The defense urged the court to be cautious since these cases arose from jurisdictions “which do not share similar social, economic and industrial conditions to Belize.” Defense counsel also attempted to distinguish the physical damage in the cases cited by claimant. The court considered both the fact that claimant’s pecuniary prospects had not changed, as well as her loss of biological motherhood and the psychological damage from loss of her female reproductive organs, and awarded $250,000 in damages.
The appellant threw an accelerant on her husband, followed by a lit candle. She then immediately attempted to douse the flames in water. Her husband died and she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, the appellant attempted to introduce new evidence that she had suffered from Battered Women Syndrome (“BWS”). This evidence was not available during the appellant’s trial because there were no qualified forensic psychiatrists available in Belize. The Court of Appeal granted the appeal on the ground that (1) it was capable of belief; (2) it was relevant to the issues before the jury; (3) it would have been admissible at trial; (4) the trial attorney had been asked why no medical evidence was presented at trial; (5) the new evidence may have caused the jury to decide differently; (6) the evidence supports a defense of diminished responsibility and (7) it cast doubt as to the reasonableness of the verdict and admission of the evidence was in the interest of justice. The court considered the findings of an experienced and distinguished professional in the field of forensic psychiatry who examined the appellant, interviewed witnesses, and reviewed trial documents and found that the appellant’s history and behavior was consistent with BWS. The forensic psychiatrist concluded that the appellant had been physically, sexually, financially, and psychologically abused by her partner for nine years. This abuse, together with the appellant’s response to the abuse, was found to be consistent with BWC. The Court reduced the appellant’s sentence to eight years. This case was the first time that a court in Belize admitted new evidence in relation to BWS and PTSD in connection with a defense of diminished responsibility.
The appellant was convicted of carnal knowledge of a female child under the age of 14. During trial the complainant claimed to not remember anything about the night in question or even where she lived, her mother’s occupation or place of work, or where her best friend lived. When the complainant continued to “evince no desire to cooperate with prosecuting counsel” and stated her previous statement to the prosecution about the night in question was untrue, the trial court granted the prosecution permission to treat the complainant as a hostile witness. However, the Court of Appeal faulted the trial court for the fact there is “no indication in the record that the judge took the steps dictated by long established practice in this jurisdiction to demonstrate that [the trial judge] formed, at the proper time, the opinion that [the complainant], being then a child of only 13 years, understood the nature of an oath.” Given the importance of the sworn testimony of the complainant on the identification of the appellant, the court ordered a retrial and granted bail on the condition the appellant stayed away from the complainant and her family.
The appellant was convicted of grievous harm (was also charged but acquitted of rape) and was sentenced to a fine of $10,000 or in default a term of three years imprisonment, as well as being ordered to pay the complainant $3,000. The appellant appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred in law by not giving a proper instruction to the jury on the issue of self-defense. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction, finding “no miscarriage of justice,” where the jury “clearly accepted the version [of events] given by the complainant in relation to the offence of grievous harm, and rejected the version given by the appellant,” and a different self-defense instruction would not have changed the result.
The appellant was convicted of raping a 16-year-old female colleague and was sentenced to eight years in prison. The Court of Appeal granted a retrial because the trial court had “erred in failing to give a proper/adequate direction to the jury.” Under Section 92(3)(a) of Belize’s Evidence Act, a trial court has discretion to “warn the jury of the special need for caution” where the only evidence against a person charged with rape is the word of the victim. Where a judge exercises such discretion, he or she must provide the reasons for cautioning the jury. The trial judge did caution the jury in the case, but the Court of Appeal found he had erred by not warning the jury that the complainant had lied during her testimony and by not pointing out the complainant’s admission that she had been raped was made only after being threatened by her father. The Court of Appeal also found that the trial judge should have warned the jury that the complainant “may have had some kind of relationship with the Appellant.”
The appellant was convicted of abduction and rape and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. The complainant was kidnaped from a car, driven to a remote location, and raped multiple times by two men. Upon arrival at the remote location, the police chased after the two men, but only caught and arrested one of the men – the appellant. The complainant testified that the appellant wore a stocking mask, and although he had spoken to her many times the night of her kidnaping, she did not recognize him until his stockinged face was illuminated by a car light. This identification was not made until a few days after the police arrested the appellant. The Court of Appeal quashed the convictions because the trial judge did not direct the jury on issues related to voice identification in general or concerns related to the timing of complainant’s identification. The Court of Appeals also faulted the prosecution for not conducting a controlled identification procedure to test the complainant’s ability to identify the appellant by the sound of his voice. The Court did not however order a retrial because it found the evidence to be “insufficient to justify a conviction by any jury which had been properly directed” due to the “glaring evidential gaps”.
The appellant was convicted of the murder of his romantic partner of eight years and was sentenced to life in prison. On the night of the murder, the appellant first beat his partner in front of her three children. One of children called the police to report the beating, but the police failed to respond to the residence. Following the beating, the appellant left the house, but returned an hour later, broke into the house, and stabbed his partner to death. The appellant then drove his partner to the hospital where he was subsequently arrested. At the appellant' trial, testimony revealed that the appellant was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the killing and had a history of domestic violence. The first issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the trial judge gave adequate instructions on the potential for intoxication to be taken into account when deciding whether there was an intent to kill for the purposes of the appellant’s defense. The Court of Appeal found that such instructions given by the trial judge were adequate. The next issue decided by the Court of Appeal was whether new evidence from a forensic psychiatrist based on a single interview with the appellant regarding the appellant’s mental health necessitated a new trial. The Court of Appeal found the new evidence to be less than credible, but exercised discretion to substitute the original conviction of murder to a conviction of manslaughter and reduced the appellant’s sentence to 18 years. In reducing the sentence, the Court of Appeal began with the range of sentences for murder applicable a street fight (being 15 to 20 years), although acknowledged that the instant case differed in that it was a “vicious attack on an unarmed victim.” Taking into account appellant’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, the Court of Appeal began with a 15-year sentence and then added three years to reflect the aggravating factors of “the choice of weapon, the number of stab wounds, the presence of the children and the previous violence he inflicted on the deceased about an hour before the fatal incident” to arrive at the 18 year sentence ordered.