January 28, 2008

Whither the Caribbean Court of Justice?

Whither the Caribbean Court?
Published on: 1/27/08.
Source: Barbados Nation

THE CARIBBEAN COURT OF JUSTICE (CCJ) was conceived as the final appellate court for civil and criminal matters from English-speaking members of the CARICOM Community (CARICOM). In its original jurisdiction, it would be the tribunal for resolving disputes that arise from the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), as well as adjudicate in matters referred to it by national courts of the participating countries.

To date, only Guyana and Barbados have signed up on the CCJ as their final court in all matters, although leaders of almost the entire CARICOM membership gave verbal assurances of their commitment to the principle and signed on for a US$100 million trust fund, to be managed by the Caribbean Development Bank.

The signatory countries include Dominica, Antigua/Barbuda, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts-Nevis, Jamaica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent, and Belize.

Since the establishment of the CCJ a few influential Caribbean people in Jamaica and elsewhere have taken the position that there is nothing wrong with the system of referring cases to the Judicial Committee of the London-based British Privy Council instead of switching to the CCJ. In the context of contemporary Caribbean affairs, this is a most appalling attitude to adopt.

We exist in an increasingly globalised world and it is perceived, even by politicians, that there is need to establish a stronger Caribbean identity. Political leaders, as much as anyone else, should be conscious of the question of sovereignty, precious as this is within the context of the CCJ and the regional integration movement.

At nearly every regional conference leaders ignite a flicker of hope that pan-Caribbean unity is high among their priorities.

Unlike some of the smaller states which now give every impression of making a disgraceful about-face, Jamaica, a notable standout from the now defunct Federation, might now be tending towards closer cooperation by raising the likelihood of a referendum to determine whether it would join the CCJ.

A few days ago, St Lucia's newly appointed Prime Minister Stephenson King is reported as having suggested that he sees nothing wrong with the Privy Council. His predecessor, the late Sir John Compton, a committed regionalist, would be devastated were he still alive.

What does such an utterance do for this region? We can understand the need for amendments to some countries' constitutions to facilitate a switch from the Privy Council to the CCJ, but what we are hearing is a savage blow to those who cherish the dream of a thoroughly united Caribbean to see that others in high office are setting their faces strongly against the regional court.

A few might be happy to become pawns of bigger states. But have they no sense of shame that what they are doing is a reflection on the image of their countries? Do they have no sense of dignity?

What will be the real future of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy which the CCJ was established to serve? Are we in danger of becoming mendicant satellites of some Eastern or Western country?

At the very start of 2008, King's declaration is a crushing blow to the regional integration movement. These islands must demonstrate that they truly stand for something to which they now appear to have been giving only convenient lip service. It really is quite appalling that these statements should be made at this time.

Trinidad and Tobago had its own aberrant behaviour with Basdeo Panday supporting the court when he was Prime Minister but then strenuously opposing it when his party lost the government.

The whole scenario now presenting itself is terrible for these islands if this is the kind of stand the leaders of these less developed CARICOM countries want to take, going in a direction that makes no sense when viewed against the background of a professed commitment to regional cooperation and development.

Where are we going as a predominantly West Indian people? British citizens have recourse to the European Court of Justice even though the House of Lords is located in London? Do we realise that the Privy Council is on record as urging countries such as those in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, to seek remedies in their own domestic or regional jurisdictions?

There should be a groundswell of the strongest censure by Caribbean people for paper leaders that strut and posture at every opportunity to massage their egos within the region and elsewhere.

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