April 19, 2008

T&T Debates the CCJ Bill

Ramesh, Manning clash over CCJ
Ria Taitt Political Editor
Trinidad Express
Saturday, April 19th 2008

Saying that the judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice were "most of the time drinking coffee and reading papers", Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj yesterday called on the Government to either close down the CCJ or find a way to build public confidence in this institution.

Maharaj and Prime Minister Patrick Manning clashed during the debate on the CCJ Bill in the House of Representatives yesterday as Maharaj claimed that many Caricom prime ministers were having second thoughts as to whether they should continue to pay the expenses of maintaining the court.

Maharaj said also the judges of that court were unhappy because they had no cases and therefore no work to do.

He asked the Government to consider whether the jurisdiction of the CCJ could be expanded as a Court of Appeal in a range of matters, but allowing for a further appeal to the Privy Council. He said Caribbean leaders knew that the populations did not support the CCJ and they were rethinking the wisdom of having such a court.

Manning interrupted saying that he knew of no such position. He said Caricom leaders discussed the issue of making the CCJ independent of the respective treasuries of the region but at no time had there been any doubts as to whether they should proceed with the court. Maharaj countered that Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson noted that unless Trinidad and Tobago was part of the (original and appellate jurisdiction of the) court, it would be a waste of time.

He called on the Government to give the population information on the kind of money spent so far on the CCJ. He also called on the Government to commit itself to a reassessment of the situation to see how best the court could be utiltised given the resources being dedicated to it.

Manning said Caricom governments were careful to put financial arrangements to make the CCJ financially independent and as of now there was no additional call on the Treasury of Caricom countries to maintain the CCJ. But Maharaj challenged this, saying that Attorney General Bridgid Annisette-George had stated differently. Manning stated that there were only additional costs to Trinidad and Tobago and that arose solely out of the fact that Trinidad and Tobago was the headquarters of the court.

Maharaj added that Sir James Mitchell, one of greatest supporters of the CCJ, was now saying that it should be looked at again. Manning rose again to challenge the statement saying to Speaker Barry Sinanan, "He can't get away with that". However, Sinanan suspended for tea.

Debate on the Bill resumes on Wednesday.

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