The hosting of the first hemispheric meeting of regional courts and tribunals in the Americas which began on Thursday was an important positioning statement by its host, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
The discussions around regional jurisprudence among peers in the judicial community offers one value proposition. The sharing of experiences and challenges in the region is an opportunity to build a shared understanding of the delivery of justice in the Americas.
Justice Adrian Saunders, president of the CCJ, noted that it was in the regional court’s interest to “discover best practices which we can adopt to build on the modest advances we have made to date in the pursuit of our own mandate.”
AG Reginald Armour, SC, endorsed the effort, saying courts must work together in a modern, globalised legal context.
The CCJ has also taken a bold and overdue step toward emphasising its intended positioning as the final Court of Appeal for the Caribbean by hosting this collaborative conversation on enforcing law in the Americas.
Unfortunately, ten years after its founding, only four Caricom member states – Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana – recognise the CCJ as their final appellate courts in all cases.
This country, despite its role in supporting and hosting the regional court since its establishment, ignores the court on its own doorstep and continues to trek to the Privy Council in the UK for final judgement in contested cases except those involving the Treaty of Chaguaramas, that is, those relating to Caricom.
Mr Armour acknowledged that the CCJ should become the country’s final appellate court, replacing the Court of Appeal. He also indicated the Prime Minister’s support for this move, though he did not make it clear whether the CCJ would also displace the continuing humiliation of acknowledging ultimate legal jurisprudence in the UK as being superior to the region’s legal talent.
It’s not as if Caribbean courts are unaware of the CCJ.
St Vincent and the Grenadines failed in 2009 to win even a simple majority, far less the two-thirds majority required, for the constitutional reform required to change its final appellate court.
In 2015, Jamaica’s House of Representatives voted to make the CCJ its court of final appeal, but has not taken the last step to make that a reality.
In 2018, a referendum in the islands of Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda ended with another rejection of the CCJ.
The legislative requirements that need to be met in the Caribbean are a legacy of post-independence codicils written into the constitutions of former colonies designed to deter the strongest form of the federation that was briefly achieved.
Given these hurdles, the CCJ must commit to doing more than waiting for the region to eventually accept its intended role and actively demonstrate the value of its rightful role as the constitutionally recognised north star for settling the region’s judicial matters.