NEWLY-INSTALLED president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Adrian Saunders wasted little time when he last week made a persuasive case for the adoption of the CCJ as this country’s highest court of appeal. Justice Saunders noted that one of the advantages the CCJ has over the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is its proximity to the region.
“Proportionately more appeals come to our courts because our court is nearer to the people geographically and from a philosophical standpoint,” Saunders said at a special sitting of the court on Henry Street, Port-of-Spain. He further cited a higher degree of productivity.
“The court actually produces and has produced for this year, far more judgments for the four countries that are on board with appellate jurisdiction than the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has produced for several other States who are sending their final appeals to them,” said the judge.
Saunders has served as a judge of the CCJ since it’s inauguration in 2005 and has acted as president. Before coming to the CCJ, which is based in Trinidad, Saunders was a barrister and solicitor for 19 years, and a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) for seven years, after which he was confirmed a Justice of Appeal in 2003. The new CCJ president will serve for seven years. He replaces his former colleague from the ECSC, Sir Dennis Byron.
Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Guyana are the only Caricom countries to have replaced the London-based Privy Council with the CCJ. The court was established in February 2001 and began operations in April 2005.
At the same event, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds both agreed it was embarrassing that this country is yet to sign up to the court’s final jurisdiction, even as it is headquartered here.
Over the years there have been several attempts to abolish the Privy Council. The PNM’s position has been to do so outright, while the UNC has proposed a partial abolition. One unfulfilled promise by former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was to make the CCJ the highest court of appeal for criminal cases while retaining the Privy Council for civil cases. That proposal did not find favour with Caricom leaders and those with responsibility for shaping the treaty law governing the CCJ.
Is the gap between the Government and the Opposition on this matter too big to be bridged? Why is it that this vestige of our colonial past persists? Is the idea that as an independent region we should have our own highest court of appeal so hard to conceive and implement?
Food for thought for next month’s Independence Day celebrations.