May 07, 2007

Ensnaring the CCJ

Source : Trinidad Express Sun, 06 May 2007
FOR the life of the current Manning administration now approaching its constitutional close, Trinidad and Tobago has been embarrassed by a turnaround from one administration to the other, on this perplexing question of the country's accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
That the court is established in Port of Spain was as a direct result of the commitment to it, and the campaigning for its siting, conducted by the predecessor administration in government, the United National Congress (UNC).

As Prime Minister Manning reminded the country once again during his fourth consultation on crime in Tobago on Saturday, the UNC changed its mind after it lost office and withdrew its support for the court.

Withholding its support for legislation necessary give effect to the court in its appellate jurisdiction, the UNC has frustrated the intention of this country to access the court as its final appellate body, replacing the Privy Council.

Whereas this is also the case with Caricom partner Jamaica, the difference is that the Opposition has never been as favourable to this move as the UNC had been while in office.

But by tying the desire for the country to move towards a totally indigenous and independent judicial system to the issue of the death penalty, the Prime Minister may have once again complicated matters, giving the erroneous impression that a CCJ will automatically be more sympathetic to the wishes of this or any other Caribbean nation's governments.

Indeed, this is the very ruse by which the UNC has sought to build its about-face on the CCJ, citing its fears about interference and political manipulation. A fanciful, self-interested and hypocritical argument, to say the least.

To be correct, the Privy Council has, by its famous ruling in the Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan, imposed a five-year limit within which the death penalty must be carried out on anyone so convicted.

Restating a long-held, unwavering element of public opinion, the Prime Minister told his audience in Tobago that capital punishment was an essential element in crime-fighting. For good measure also, he added that he was "a strong supporter" of capital punishment.

By suggesting, however, that a CCJ would, ipso facto, be more favourable to any administration's wishes on enforcement of the death penalty, or on any other issue for that matter, the Prime Minister and the administration for which he speaks, is doing untold damage to the cherished independence of the court.

There is, and never will be, any such guarantee, and any intimations to this effect are just wishful thinking at best, but dangerous, counter-productive and distracting as well.

Constituted as it is at present, the CCJ, led by former Trinidad and Tobago chief justice Michael de la Bastide, comprises some of the best, most robustly independent and thorough-going members of the regional system of jurisprudence.

Unequivocally, every effort must continue to be made to convince those across the region who remain sceptical and untrusting about the need for a full embrace of the CCJ. But those who read into it any misguided notions about advancing their own political or other narrow, immediate agendas must also be warned off such misguided paths.

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