January 19, 2009

CCJ 4 Years Later

Fourth year since CCJ inaugurated and court still being grossly under utilised
Source: Caribbean Net News

Published on Monday, January 19, 2009
Print Version
By Oscar Ramjeet

It is interesting to read that CARICOM Secretary General, Edwin Carrington has called on regional leaders to accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final court.

Carrington made reference to the statement made by Trinidad and Tobago Attorney General, Brigid Annisette-George that only the Caribbean and Mauritius still retained the Privy Council as the final court, as well as the comments made by former St Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony that "countries in the forefront of decolonisation process could now find undisguised comfort in retaining the Privy Council".

I wish to point out that Anthony was Head of Government in April 2005 when the Court was established and was in office until December 2006, for about 20 months and St Lucia had not joined the Court and still has not done so.

We have entered into another year -- the fourth year since the CCJ was inaugurated -- and no other country has joined Guyana and Barbados to accept the CCJ as the final court in the region. It is very disturbing and distressing that there is no indication that any other country will join in the near future.

What is even worrying is that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration 20 years ago was in the forefront of the establishment of the CCJ, and now that administration under a new Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, which is back in power after 15 years, is no longer interested.

Trinidad and Tobago was also advocating for the Court. In fact that is the reason why the Court is now headquartered in Port of Spain, and now the twin-island Republic has not taken any positive action to abolish appeals to the Privy Council.

But although the countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Dominica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines have not taken steps to rid the Privy Council as the final court, they could still use the CCJ in its original jurisdiction to resolve disputes between Caribbean countries that are parties to the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, as well as international law issues, but they are not even doing this.

Since the Court was established in April 2005, 45 months ago, only two CSME matters were filed.

In fact the decision in the first matter filed by a Trinidad company against Guyana was given on Thursday.

The CCJ has recently taken steps to launch a series of public education initiatives to enhance the knowledge of the Bar and Bench in the region and to invite business, labour and members of the public to be part of the exercise. Lectures were so far held in Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda.

It is now worrying and opposition politicians in Trinidad and Tobago, including former Attorney General, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, are advocating that the Court be closed because of the high operational costs, not only because of the highly paid judges, but the maintenance of the highly technical and modern Court facilities as well as the administrative and support staff.

It seems that both the government as well as the opposition have to agree to abolish appeals to the Privy Council because of the constitutional changes, and that may well be one of the reasons, but perhaps I should point out that several governments have changed since the establishment of the CCJ, including St Lucia, Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, Grenada, but the situation remains the same. Barbados and the British Virgin Islands also have new governments, but Barbados has already joined and the BVI is a British Overseas Territory and is not a signatory to the CCJ.

Since only two of the twelve countries -- Guyana and Barbados -- have accepted the CCJ as the final appellate court, the CCJ is grossly under utilised and this is very unfortunate since it gives them little scope to develop a Caribbean jurisprudence, which I have no doubt that they are eager to do.

There was some concern in the past that the CCJ was in favour of the death penalty as opposed to the London-based Privy Council, but a recent decision by the CCJ has dispelled the fear that it was a "hanging court" as contended in some quarters, since the regional Court has demonstrated that it will look at each case on its merits.

In any event, the Jamaican Parliament recently passed a motion by a wide majority to retain the death penalty, and St Kitts recently carried out an execution.

Dr Oswald Harding, former Attorney General of Jamaica, said that he was not in favour of the composition of the CCJ and expressed concern that no Jamaican has been named as a judge, although eight highly qualified persons applied for a position. He pointed out that Jamaica has the largest population in the English-speaking Caribbean, with a figure of 2.5 million. In a more humorous vein, he said that this was like selecting a West Indies cricket team without a Jamaican.

I have time and time again advocated that CARICOM Secretariat recruit a lobbyist to try to woo both the governments and opposition to take steps to rid appeals to the Privy Council, and they should do so as quickly as possible.

Carrington's statement is not enough; CARICOM should go further and take steps to approach governments as well as opposition parties to do so.

The Heads of Government have mandated the Ministers of Finance to provide funding for the recurrent expenses of the Court for the first five years of its operation. The question is -- what happens after April 16, 2010, the expiration of the five-year period?

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