ABA ROLI works with Belizean police prosecutors on an array of training efforts.
In most countries, when a uniformed police officer enters a criminal courtroom he does so as a witness. But in the small Central American country of Belize, police corporals, sergeants and inspectors also serve as prosecutors.This is a practice that Belize inherited from the British and although the United Kingdom has long abandoned the method, police prosecutors remain anintegral part of Belize’s criminal justice system.
The Prosecutorial Reform Index (PRI) for Belize an assessment of the strengths and deficiencies in the country’s prosecutorial function that the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) released in July 2011 found that untrained police prosecutors contribute to the loss of non-felony cases, resulting in a low overall conviction rate. While they lack formal legal training, the police prosecutors prosecute serious crimes, including those involving violence, financial offenses and narcotics.
To find ways to alleviate the situation, ABA ROLI representatives held discussions with individual police prosecutors and Ministry of Police representatives. A lack of training in trial skills emerged as a major factor. Police prosecutors indicated that they constantly find themselves at a disadvantage when facing trained attorneys in court. To address this need, ABA ROLI and the Police Ministry have coordinated to train police prosecutors in trial skills and rules of evidence.
With ABA ROLI’s support, on December 3rd and 10th, 2011, the ministry’s legal advisor led trial skills trainings at the Police Training Academy in the capital, Belmopan. A total of 18 police prosecutors from around the country gathered to learn about lawyering skills, such as courtroom advocacy, evidence presentation, and direct- and cross-examination. ABA ROLI experts also lectured on preparing cases and examining witnesses, using case studies that allowed the lessons learned to be put into practice.
Participants said that the trainings will help them do their jobs better. Sgt. Clinton Magdaleno, a veteran police prosecutor in one of the busiest courts in Belize City, said, “These trainings have been an enormous help to me and are covering areas I will definitely use in carrying out my duties as a prosecutor.”
ABA ROLI and the Police Ministry plan to conduct follow-up trainings over the coming months.
To learn more about our work in Belize, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].