Efforts to modernize Belize’s legislation continue

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Bills amending the Libel and Libel Act and the Married Persons Protection Act have been introduced in the Senate and have received broad support from its members.

by Khaila Gentle

BELMOPAN, Mon July 18, 2022
During today’s Senate session, efforts to modernize the country’s legislation continued with the introduction of two bills introduced by the House of Representatives: the Libel Bill of 2022 and the Protection of Married Persons Act 2022.

The Libel Bill 2022 seeks to repeal the current Libel and Defamation Act to make way for new provisions relating to defamation cases. According to the Leader of Government Affairs, Hon. Eamon Courtenay, the goal is to ensure the country has a modern defamation law.

Not only does it abolish the distinction between libel and slander, said Hon. Courtenay, but it also removes the requirement for people to prove special damages to sue for defamation. Most importantly, the bill will give the media some protection when broadcasting information.

“Part 3 of the bill provides a comprehensive code for a person accused of making a defamatory or libelous statement to have the opportunity to resolve that claim or dispute outside of court in an attempt to make amends by offering an apology and, where appropriate, damages,” explained Senator Courtenay.

Part of this comprehensive code is improving the scope of the defenses in the bill, including the fair comment defense and the innocent broadcasting defense, both of which are important to the media.

“With the law as it currently stands, if The New York Times defamed Senator Willoughby and The Belize Times reported and repeated that here, it could sue both The Belize Times and The New York Times. So even if the newspaper will say ‘I’m just repeating what was said’, the newspaper at home would still be responsible,” said Hon. Courtenay.

With the introduction of the innocent broadcast defence, however, local media houses would be protected to some degree in such a situation.

“So it’s an improvement to help the media repeat what is being said in other publications,” the senator added.
According to the Hon. Courtenay, extensive consultations were undertaken in the development of the bill.

“The House committee met and a significant number of amendments were proposed. Almost all of them have been taken into account and incorporated into the bill. So what is before you is a bill that is the product of substantial consultation and input from the media and others,” he said.
Senator Janelle Chanona rose to stress the importance of reviewing defamation law in the future if necessary, especially as technology and information are changing rapidly.

The Married Persons Protection Amendment Bill 2022 has also been introduced in the Senate, which seeks to remove the fault grounds on which a person can seek legal separation and replaces those grounds with incompatibility as the primary ground. of seperation.

When first introduced in the House of Representatives, Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Technology, Hon. Francis Fonseca explained that the bill is introduced to update the country’s laws regarding judicial separation “to meet the needs of an ever-changing society” and to remove all provisions that discriminate against women who are currently present in the law.

“It removes archaic and offensive language to modernize the law,” the minister said.
As with the Libel Bill, the Married Persons Amendment Bill met with no objection in the Senate.

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