SUPREME COURT OF BELIZE
The Supreme Court of Belize is duly constituted under section 94 of the Constitution of Belize. The Court has jurisdiction to hear civil and criminal matters as well as appeals from the lower Courts. The Court is headed by the Chief Justice and currently consists of 8 other Justices of which 4 are assigned to the civil division (includes matrimonial and family matters) and 4 to the criminal division of the Court. The Chief Justice sits in both criminal and civil divisions.
The Registrar of the Supreme Court is also in charge of the Supreme Court Registry. The Registrar whose functions are both judicial and administrative is assisted by the two Deputy Registrars and an Assistant Registrar.
The civil division of the Court also has jurisdiction to deal with matrimonial and family matters including property rights, divorce proceedings (and other matters ancillary thereto) and adoptions.
IMMEDIATE FUTURE OBJECTIVE
The Court is currently working towards introducing case management software to aid in the effective management of cases in an effort to enhance, promote and aid in the effective administration of justice.
This effort commenced with the introduction in January 2012 of a database system which the Court was able to put into effect with the assistance of a consultant with expertise in Court Administration provided to the Court under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is expected that before year end the Court would introduce the first phase of a more sophisticated software system currently being developed.
A HIGHLIGHT ON ADOPTION PROCEDURE
An application for the adoption of an infant is made by originating summons and is heard primarily by the Registrar and at times by a Judge. Several adoptions take place annually. The law and rules which govern adoptions are embodied in the Families and Children, Act Cap 173 of the Laws of Belize (FACA) and the adoption rules in the Subsidiary Laws. Under the laws of Belize the only person who can be considered for adoption is a person who has never been married and is under the age of 18 years at the time the adoption order is expected to be finalized (“an infant”). Once the applicant /joint applicants, are ready to adopt there are certain procedures that must be followed and criterion that must be met. Note that in order to be able to make an application to the Court, the applicant, or in the case of joint applicants, one of the applicants has to be 21 years of age and at least 12 years older than the infant. (Note the Court has a discretion where the applicant and the infant is within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity)
The application is made by filing an originating summons which is supported, at this initial stage, by at least an affidavit which exhibits a statement by the applicant and other relevant documents. The rules prescribe what matters should be included in the statement. These include the marriage certificate of the applicants (in the case of joint applicants), the infant’s birth certificate, the consent of the biological parent(s) or person with legal custody and a medical report from a certified medical practitioner on the medical condition of the infant.
The summons must be served on the infant as well as on the Human Development Department which is required under the FACA to provide a home study report and or social enquiry report on the applicant and the biological parent(s) or legal guardian as the case may be.
The next step thereafter is the filing of several documents as prescribed by the rules. Once all the above have been accomplished and a social service’s report has been obtained and filed, the applicant can then set the application down for hearing. However, before the matter is heard the applicant must first obtain a final consent from the biological parent(s) or the person or authority with custody of the infant. Note however that where the applicant resides out of the jurisdiction (non-resident) additional steps must be taken. The additional requirements depend on whether the applicant resides in the United States of America (United States) or another foreign jurisdiction. If the applicant resides in the United States, the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption must be strictly complied with and in particular the applicant must obtain the “Article 5” letter from the United States Central Authority indicating its approval of the adoption by the applicant and that the infant will be authorized to enter and reside in the United States. A requirement which applies to all non-resident applicants is the submission by them of a current recommendation of their suitability to adopt a child from a competent authority (includes a certified social services practitioner) of the particular jurisdiction where they currently reside.
If the Court, in the case of a local adoption application, is satisfied that the applicant is a suitably qualified person to adopt the infant and that the adoption is in the best interest of the child, it would make a final adoption order. However, where the application for adoption is made by a non-resident, the Court upon being so satisfied will only make a provisional order which may be made final upon the filing of satisfactory quarterly reports prepared by a duly qualified social services practitioner from the country where the applicant resides with the infant.
Identification of Prospective Infant
Obtaining Social Services Report
Filing of Applications
(Originating Summons, etc.)
Hearing of Application
(for appoint of a Guardian Ad Litem)
Setting down Application for Hearing
Filing Final Consent
Granting of Adoption/Interim Order or Provisional Order
(Domestic Adoption) (International Adoption)
Filing of 4 Quarterly Reports
(Hearing for Provisional Order to be made Final)
Granting/Refusing Final adoption Order