Time to bell the CCJ cat

THE EDITOR: Two events have impelled me to revisit the matter of the Caribbean Court of Justice. These are:

(1) The surprising outcome of the same-day referendums in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada .

(2) Recent utterances at this year’s Indian Arrival Day celebrations.

There comes a time when, after prevarication, as the saying goes, one must bell the cat. Unfortunately, after mature reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this now applies to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) established in 2003,with two jurisdictions, original and appellate, as follows:

(a) Interprets and applies the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which established Caricom.

(b) Hears and determines appeals as the court of last resort, both civil and criminal, from those member states which have ceased to allow appeals to the Judicial Committee of the (British) Privy Council.

Thus, while there is no option regarding item (a) above, as of today only Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana have replaced the Privy Council with the jurisdiction of the CCJ in respect to item (b).

Needless to say this is a matter of concern as the CCJ, which was inaugurated with much fanfare on April 16, 2005, was seen as one of the bastions which was to salvage some of the “remnants” of the defunct West Indies Federation and to advance the Caribbean integration movement.

However, this “partial” jurisdiction of the CCJ in its second appellate jurisdiction should not be a surprise as even the Single Market and Economy envisaged under Caricom itself is far from achieving its full mandate.

There is no need to reiterate all the “sterling qualities” under which the CCJ has been “clothed,” however attention must be directed to the following:

(a) Creation of the CCJ Trust Fund which is to insulate the court from the need to go cap-in-hand to any political authority for its financing.

(b) The establishing of a regional judicial and legal services commission which has been so widely spread in its membership as to obviate the possibility that judges would not be appointed within a sphere of relative impartiality.

© The opinions expressed by judges of the Privy Council itself, as well as the president of the recently-established Supreme Court of England and Wales, Lord Phillips, which have highlighted the qualities of the CCJ and have urged that the “coat-tails” with the Privy Council be severed.

Further, Lord Clifford, at a reception in Jamaica in October 2009, expressed support for replacement of the Privy Council by the CCJ on the most important consideration that the CCJ would be more accessible and less costly to the average Caribbean citizen than the Privy Council.

What else do we need to convince us of the need for the switch?

Recently, no doubt as part of a task to inform the public more fully and with a view to dispelling some of the misconceptions in the public domain, the CCJ has itself issued a booklet which sets out comprehensively the “atmosphere” within which it functions.

Unfortunately, one is pessimistic that this will achieve the ultimate objective as it is clear that petite partisan politics, which really has nothing to do with the intrinsic manner in which the court has been functioning, abounds.

Indeed, one suspects that this does not reflect the public perception. It is also clear that, on the whole, and for reasons of suspected self-interest, there has been no out-and-out support among members of the legal profession regionally for a move to the CCJ.

Given the above scenarios one makes the following assumptions:

(1) There is no possibility that TT will access the “second” jurisdiction of the CCJ in the near future given political imperatives which will not allow the attaining of the two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.

(2) Apart from Dominica (already a full member), members of the OECS grouping will continue to be bogged down by “political party petite” considerations as was evident in the recent same-day referendums in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada.

(3) The position of Jamaica remains unclear.

In the circumstances, I reiterate my suggestion that a dual appellate jurisdiction be put in place in TT and the OECS by allowing citizens to access, if they so desire, either the Privy Council (if they could afford it) or the CCJ, such duality being limited initially perhaps to a period of five years.



"Time to bell the CCJ cat"

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