One of the more common questions we get from prospective retirees to Belize is whether or not U.S. or other nationality attorneys can practice in Belize and the answer is yes – in principle.
Both U.S. and Belize law systems are based on English Common Law as both countries are former colonies of Great Britain. But U.S. jurisprudence has deviated so far from English Law, that they two are now totally separate species of animals to paraphrase a U.S. attorney who went back to law school in the British Commonwealth in order to practice law in Belize.
The bottom line is that U.S. educated attorneys must complete a one-year post J.D. program, a Certificate of Legal Education (CLE), at the Norman Manley School of Law in Jamaica or the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere as a first step before they can be admitted to the Belize Bar and practice in the country as a Belize Attorney at Law. But check the latter link for rogue Belize attorneys and how you may be able to select a good Belize Lawyer.
The fact that most any U.S. trained attorney would not be too keen to go back to school in the Caribbean, points to there being no more than a handful of U.S. attorneys practicing law in Belize.
Here is the specific provision from the Legal Profession Act, Chapter 320:
“6.-(1) A person who after the commencement of this Act applies to the Supreme Court to be admitted to practise law, and who satisfies the Supreme Court that he-
( a ) is a Belizean citizen and holds a Legal Education Certificate; or
( b ) has obtained adequate training in the law and is suitably qualified and competent to practise law in Belize; or
( c ) possesses suitable practical experience and competence and is qualified to practise law in any country which the Chief Justice, after consultation with the Council, designates by Order published in the Gazette as having a sufficiently analogous system of laws, and is of good character, shall upon compliance with the requirements of this Act, and unless that person is exempt therefrom, on payment to the Registrar of the appropriate fee for registration and upon payment to the Bar Association of the annual subscription in respect of membership of that Association, be admitted to practice law and be entered on the Roll by order of the court.”
There is a case in which a Belizean citizen was found to be competent to practice in Belize although she did not obtain a Legal Education Certificate (In the matter of the admission.of Tanya Longsworth, Supreme Court of Belize, 2001 Action no. 453) and another matter in which a U.K. citizen was admitted without a Legal Education Certificate (In the matter of the admission of Vincent Nelson, Supreme Court of Belize, 2007 Action no. 248). These cases are exceptions to the general rule, but now cemented as precedent in Belize jurisprudence.
Lawyers who are admitted to the bar in British Commonwealth countries have a much better chance of being admitted to the bar in Belize. The legal systems in most of the former British Colonies are very closely aligned to that of Belize. Many of the government-salaried lawyers who work in Belize as magistrates, judges and prosecutors, come from countries such as Guyana, India, Trinidad and from Britain’s former African colonies. The Belize Bar is a tightly closed shop controlled by local lawyers, and some would allege, politically aligned with the Peoples United Party. But after 30 years in office, that party’s grip on the legal profession is waning as younger, non-aligned practitioners come to the fold.
Being a Queen’s Council in the U.K. is now an accepted legal qualification to litigate before the Belize Supreme Court. The Belize Court of Appeals, and the Caribbean Court Of Justice (CCJ) – Belize’s final court of appeal that replaced the Privy Council on 1 June 2010. But an individual who is a Q.C. is already a highly paid professional in Britain and would come to Belize only on an even higher paying engagement on high profile cases for clients with very deep pockets.