August 16, 2008

Make a firm decision!

Commentary: Belize and the Commonwealth countries must decide which court should have the final say
Published on Friday, July 25, 2008
Sorce: Caribbean Net News, Cayman Islands
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By Wellington C. Ramos In most of the English-speaking Caribbean countries there has been a significant increase in the number of murders that are being committed weekly. Especially in countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Belize. The governments of these countries are so baffled and confused about this situation that they are making all type of efforts to stop these senseless killings.
The problem is that in all these countries the last deciding legal body is the Privy Council in London. In these countries they have a national Supreme Court and an Appeals Court. These courts have been sentencing murderers to death but when most of these cases are appealed to the Privy Council in London, the sentences are reversed and the execution of capital punishment is terminated or downsized to manslaughter due to some technicalities.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has an M.A. in Urban Studies from Long Island UniversitySome of the legal experts are pushing for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), a regional court, to become the final court for all decisions. However, some legal experts in Belize and the other Commonwealth countries are against that change. They probably fear that if the last decision is given to a national court in their respective countries, there is a strong possibility that some of their nationals would be executed for political reasons despite the fact that they were innocent.
While these countries are not making any decision as to which way to proceed, their citizens are living in fear due to the continued increase in the amount of murders in their countries and the possibility of losing a loved one or a friend next is increasing. In Belize the murderers are bold and brazen because they are executing people in broad daylight without any fear or respect for the laws of our country.
The issue of capital punishment is a controversial topic not only in Belize but throughout the entire world. There will always be people who are in favour and against capital punishment. There will also be statistics that support and dispute the impact capital punishment has on the increase or decrease in the number of murders that are being committed in every country. In my five years when I was a police officer in the country of Belize, I have never seen Belize in such a state of fear. When we had capital punishment enforced, our murder rate was so low that, when we had a murder, we all could attend the funeral and sympathise with the family. Today, there are so many murders being committed in a week that we have to choose which funeral to attend.
I am not a legal expert and it does not take a legal expert to come to the conclusion that we should consider solving this problem now. The governments of the Commonwealth nations and the English-speaking Caribbean, including Belize, can put a referendum question to their citizens to decide which court they want to have the last say on all legal matters in their country. They will then choose between the Privy Council in London, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the Belize Court of Appeals. I would prefer the Belize Court of Appeals being the last court to decide on all maters affecting my country. I am a nationalist Belizean and I cannot see another country’s court system deciding the final decision on pertinent issues such as these.
The case of Michael Ashcroft has caused me to believe that he will do everything to avoid our national courts. This is a case that we should take seriously even though it is only dealing with a financial dispute. If he becomes victorious in London, it will set a major precedent and have wider implications because it will give the Privy Council the power to derail many laws passed by our House of Representatives. What does the word independence mean if we are not a sovereign state? It would be meaningless and there should have been no reason why we sought it. If any person or group of persons enter into an agreement with any government and they feel that their rights were infringed or violated, they could go to the International Court of Justice to seek redress.
I think the Privy Council’s role in the Commonwealth nations judicial system, is spelled out in their nation’s constitution. This role should be redefined because this arrangement we have in place is not working in the best interest of our country and the Commonwealth nations.

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