September 15, 2009

OECS Lawyers back CCJ

OECS lawyers back Caribbean Court

Source: Dominica News

Published: September 14, 2009

ROSEAU, Dominica, CMC – The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean (OECS) Bar Association says it is satisfied with the independence of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and called for a public education programme ahead of any referendum to decide on whether or not to make the CCJ the final court of the sub-region.

“We have looked at matters which relate to the question of the Caribbean Court of Justice and whether we should move from the Privy Council because the OECS territories are still with the Privy Council,” President of the OECS Bar Association, Tapley Seaton told reporters at the end of the sixth regional fair over the weekend.

He said that the CCJ, established in established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court of appeal, has proven to be a reputable and competent court having already deliberated on regional matters.

Barbados and Guyana are the only two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that joined the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.

The CCJ, which has both original and appellate jurisdictions, also functions as an international tribunal hearing disputes arising from the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

“We are satisfied that the independence of the CCJ would be assured, we are satisfied as to the integrity of the court and we are satisfied with the judges,” Seaton said, adding “we looked at examining what it means, is it really going to mean the final step in independence”.

More than 80 lawyers from the Caribbean and North America participated in the fair that also included a symposium and book exhibition.

Participants included the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Hugh Rawlings.

President of the Dominica Bar Association (DBA), Michael Bruney said a public education programme must be conducted in the sub-region before any steps are taken to hold a referendum on whether the nine-member OECS should adopt the CCJ as their final court of appeal.

“There needs to be public education…there were attempts by CARICOM (Caribbean Community) to do public education on the CCJ but everything started and stopped,” he said, even as he acknowledged that the global financial crisis was making it difficult for some countries to put in place mechanisms for the court.

“A referendum is a must, it is called for in the constitution and it’s an expensive exercise…all the governments are caught up right now in the economic crisis and so it doesn’t appear that the CCJ is a priority at this time but sooner or later it would have to become a priority,” Bruney said.

Meanwhile, Seaton is also urging sub-regional governments to enact the Legal Professions Act that “would regulate and discipline lawyers”.

“We recognise we suppose to be self-regulatory but there is the need for the law to be put in place to discipline lawyers. We recognise that there will be errant lawyers and who will not be dealing in their client’s interest and so the legal profession gets tardy by that because a few lawyers do that.

“We are trying to have a uniform act so that we can have the same provisions or similar provisions throughout the entire region even in the non-independent territories and maybe have a sub-regional disciplinary body because it is difficult sometimes to find senior lawyers within a particularly territory who can sit on disciplinary matters...”

“It is a matter of priority for the OECS Bar Association,” the St. Kitts-born Seaton said.

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