August 10, 2007

PNP Promises to put CCJ to Referendum

Now PNP says it will put CCJ to referendum
Source: Jamaica Observer

August 10, 2007

The People's National Party (PNP) has made an about-turn in its position on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), promising to put the issue to a plebiscite within the next five years as part of other proposed changes to the Constitution.The commitment is outlined in the ruling party's manifesto which it launched last night at The Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston.

"Before taking effect, we will ensure that these constitutional changes are submitted to the Jamaican electorate for their approval," the manifesto stated of the CCJ, an updated Charter of Rights reflecting the current thinking on human rights and the creation of a republic headed by a Jamaican.

Party leader and prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, who arrived late as a result of heavy rains and the visit of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, did not expand much on the issues in the manifesto, as she was constrained by time. However, the manifesto gives clear indication that referenda will be held on these issues if the party is elected to form the next government on August 27 when Jamaicans will vote in general elections.

The PNP Government, under former Prime Minister P J Patterson, had stoutly resisted calls by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and rights groups for the CCJ to be put to a referendum.

Jamaica hopes to abandon appeals to the United Kingdom-based Privy Council and replace it with the CCJ as the island's final appeal court.

The controversial court was inaugurated on April 16, 2005 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. However, only Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago have entered the CCJ in its criminal and civil appeal jurisdictions.

The court, therefore, serves the other countries in the Caribbean Community in matters relating to regional trade.

The court's critics have raised objections ranging from the quality of jurisprudence in the Caribbean, to the inadequacies of the justice system in the region, to fear that the court will be underfunded and the possibility of political interference. There were also concerns that the CCJ was being introduced to ensure the application of the death penalty.

The Jamaican Government's reluctance to put the issue to a referendum was challenged by local rights groups who took their case to the Privy Council and won a judgement in their favour in February 2005.

Ostensibly, the British law lords ruled that while their court can be struck down by a simple majority in Parliament, it would require special constitutional provisions to entrench the CCJ before it could come into force with superior authority to the Jamaican appeal court.

The ruling left the Jamaican Government with the option of putting the issue to the public or getting the support of a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament.

Last year March, Patterson, in his final appeal to political leaders before leaving Gordon House, suggested that they seek bipartisan consensus on at least two of three issues of full sovereignty.

The three issues, which he said would "substantially advance the process of claiming our full sovereignty as a result of critical constitutional reform and provisions", were:
. the entrenchment in the Constitution, in short order, of the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
. completion of the process of "decolonisation", by creating a Republican system of government, with a president as the head of state, with authority derived directly from the people of Jamaica; and
. completing the process of the CCJ becoming the country's final appellate court.

Last night, Patterson's successor, Simpson Miller, also gave firm commitment to the transformation of the justice system by implementing the recommendations of a Government-commissioned reform task force.

Under that programme, a Law Foundation of Jamaica will be set up to assist with "funding innovative justice-related services." in collaboration with the private sector.

The PNP manifesto has also given the party's commitment to the reorganisation of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution to provide a "single prosecution service for all courts", along with the establishment of a Judicial Code of Conduct.

The party also proposed a programme of human resources and training in the justice system to:
. Establish an independent Court Services Agency, answerable to Parliament and under the direction of the chief justice to help ensure independence of the judiciary from any influence or interference from the executive;
. Establish a Court Services Unit within the Ministry of Justice with responsibility for the implementation of modern systems and structures for our courts;
. Regionalise the Supreme Court; and
. Review operations of specialised courts, and introduce new courts to deal with mental health and domestic violence

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