The independent judiciary is appointed by the crown. The law of Belize is the common law of England, augmented by local legislation. The judiciary consists of the Magistrate's Courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is presided over by a Chief Justice. Appeals are to the court of appeal, established in 1968, and, until 2003, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. Six summary jurisdiction courts (criminal) and six district courts (civil) are presided over by magistrates.
On 9 June 2003, Caribbean leaders met in Kingston, Jamaica, to ratify a treaty to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The first session of the CCJ was scheduled for November 2003. Eight nations—Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago—had officially approved the CCJ, although 14 nations were planning to use the court for appeals. Haiti had agreed to use the CCJ for resolution of trade disputes.
The judiciary has protected individual rights and fundamental freedoms. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 72 hours of arrest. Bail is liberally afforded. A jury trial is required in capital cases. The 1981 Constitution provides a wide range of fundamental rights and freedoms. Criminal defendants have rights to presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, counsel, appeal and public trial. The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The Constitution also prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence. The government generally respects these provisions.