June 09, 2008

AG of Antigua Endorses CCJ

Simon endorses CCJ as final court of appeal
Monday June 09 2008
by Patricia Campbell
Source: Antigua Sun

Attorney-General Justin Simon has again made a case for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace the British Privy council as the court of final appeal, saying that sufficient safeguards have been put in place to protect against political interference.

He said that the main concerns have been addressed in the agreement which established the CCJ, and argued that the region is also developing politically and evolving away from the restrictive thinking that would stimulate such interference.

Simon however acknowledging that continued apprehension that the CCJ could find itself subject to political pressure and influence are not unfounded.

“The concern is legitimate, understandable and, in a lot of quarters, genuine,” he said, responding to query on the matter.

“Let us take our own experience here in Antigua and Barbuda. A number of pieces of legislation which were passed here in Antigua and Barbuda were overturned by the Privy Council.

"It took the system to go right up to the top for the laws to be struck down as unconstitutional.

“Our history shows that our High Court, which was the first court which dealt with those various matters, ruled (them) unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeal overturned and it took the Privy Council to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeal and reinstate the decision of our High Court.”

He cited the Tim Hector case which challenged legislation that the truth was not a defence to libel and a number of other cases where the value of the Privy Council was proved. Nevertheless, said Simon, “There are a number of areas which have been addressed in respect of the CCJ which would, to my mind, have removed that sort of political overshadowing in respect of that court.”

He pointed out that a trust fund has been established at the Caribbean Development Bank for financing the operation of the CCJ, so that its expenses are not part of the budgetary estimates of governments.

This means that governments cannot withhold or withdraw funds as a means of manipulating the decisions of the court.

Ain addition to this, the attorney general pointed out that judges are appointed by a regional legal and judicial commission, with representatives from various civil institutions.

“Only the appointment of the president must meet the approval of the heads of governments and only a majority of the heads (is needed). With us here in the OECS Court, the chief justice has to meet with the approval of all of the OECS prime ministers.

"For that very reason, Justice Byron remained acting as chief justice for a good five years before he was appointed.

"Justice Alleyne, who has just left the court, was appointed acting chief justice and remained acting for two years because we could not get the unanimous approval,” he said.

Simon was making a case for judicial independence during last week’s Conference for Academic Research and Development, organised by the Antigua State College.

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