September 10, 2008

Future of the CCJ?

Commentary: What is the future of the Caribbean Court of Justice?
By Oscar Ramjeet
Published on Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Source : Caribbean Net News
Print Version

It seems to me that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which was on the back-burner for more than three years is no longer there, since it has been completely removed from the stove and is tucked away in some corner. At least the leaders of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are more concerned about OECS unity with the twin island republic, than to initiate steps to remove the Privy Council as the final court.

One wonders why so much time is being spent by Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Patrick Manning to jet to Jamaica, Bahamas, Belize and OECS to sensitise the leaders on his wider OECS initiative rather than to move to join the CCJ as the final court and encourage the OECS states to do likewise. Moreover, more attention is being paid on the implications of the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) as to whether or not Caribbean countries should sign.
It was Trinidad and Tobago as well as Jamaica, the two largest Engllish speaking countries in the region, which were in the forefront for the regional court and both countries now seem to have little or no interest.
I recall in 1990, while I was Solicitor General of St VIncent and the Grenadines, the late Selwyn Richardson, who was the Attorney General of the twin island republic, and Bryn Pollard, former Legal Advisor to CARICOM, journeyed to St Vncent and the Grenadines to woo the James Mitchell government to join the court.
Now, after nearly 18 years, only two countries, Barbados and Guyana, enjoy the benefits of the Appellate Division of the CCJ.
Why? Is it that the governments are reluctant to take steps to put the mechanism in place to remove the Privy Council as the final court, be it by way of referenda or two thirds or three-fourths of parliamentary votes as the case may be, or they do not want to confront the electorates?
It seems to me that the governments will have to woo the opposition to support the move, but they are hesitant to do so. It should be noted that there have been changes in the administration of most countries in the region since the idea of setting up of the court was conceived.
Besides David Thompson of Barbados, there are at least four other Prime Ministers who are lawyers, Herbert Ingraham of Bahamas, Ralph Gonsalves of St VIncent and the Grenadnes and the two new leaders, Dean Barrow of Belize and Tillman Thomas of Grenada, and they should work assidiously to rid the Privy Council as the final court. The region does not only need political independence, but it is high time the Caribbean adopt a parochial approach to the development of Caribbean jurisprudence.
Caribbean jurisprudence and its promotion is not just about civil and criminal disputes and matters of public law, but the CCJ also exercises an original jurisdiction since the court is charged with the resolving disputes between Caribbean countries that are parties to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The Jamaica Labour Party was in government when the idea was mooted for the CCJ and they are back in power after more than a fifteen years and they are not taking taking steps to do so. Mr Manning is now busy switching his attention to greater heights, maybe to be the leader for the wider OECS, and is not pushing for his country to join the CCJ, although the regional court is based in Port of Spain.
The Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica-born Justin Simon is advocating a joint referendum of the OECS states to determine if they should adopt the appellate jurisdiction. But this cannot be done since a decision has to be taken by each country. It might be a good idea for Simon to advise his Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, who is now the Chairman of Caricom, to try to convince member states to join, and perhaps try to woo the Prime Minister of the country of his birth to do likewise.
In fact, Spencer told an interviewer on Observer Radio's Voice in Antigua that he does not think Antigua and Barbuda is entirely opposed to the Manning initiative. He added, "Our level of functional cooperation in the OECS is very, very high and good. As a matter of fact we have been applauded all over the world for what we have been able to accomplish at that level."
The CCJ was inaugurated in April 2005, more than three years and three months ago, with only two countries joinng, Barbados and Guyana, and there is no indication of any other 10 countries are taking steps to do so.
Besides the experienced and well qualified judges, the CCJ has an excellent support staff and top class facilties where audio files of court proceedings can be obtained hours after.
It is very unfortunate that the remaining 10 countries are not making use of the full facilities of the court, despite calls from several quarters, including the president of the CCJ, for the other countries to join, since the court is being under utililized.
I have written several articles about the CCJ, and even suggested that the authorities consider a lobbyist, perhaps an influential regionalist like Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary General, to woo the governments as well as the opposition parties to accept the CCJ as the final court of appeal in the region.

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