September 27, 2009

Time for rational discourse on CCJ

Time for rational discourse on CCJ

Source: Jamaica Gleaner

Published: Sunday | September 27, 2009

We have previously called for a new and mature dialogue on Jamaica's participation in the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) with, up to now, no obvious reward for our efforts.

Hopefully, recent events in London will serve to rekindle the debate, but without the politically opportunistic bombast, emotionalism and shrillness than when the issue was last seriously on the national agenda. Which is why we advise A.J. Nicholson, the minister of justice and attorney general in the former People's National Party - who has given much thought to the CCJ, has expended great effort in its establishment and is convinced of its practical and psychological worth - to adjust his rhetoric as a contribution to this re-engagement.

Britain, as too few of us are aware, is on the cusp of significant judicial reform. Shortly, it will launch a new Supreme Court to replace the judges of the House of Lords as the country's court of last resort, completing, of a fashion, what is substantially defined in Jamaica's Constitution - the separation of the judicial and legislative arms of government. Lord Nicholas Phillips, a House of Lords judge, is to head the new court. He also hears cases at the Privy Council, the final court for a clutch of former British colonies, including Jamaica, as well as the UK's overseas dependencies.

Last week, in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, Lord Phillips lamented that over 40 per cent of the time of Britain's most senior judges is spent on Privy Council cases. "I personally would like to see it reduced," he said.

ideal world

In an "ideal world", Lord Phillips said, the independent countries that send cases to the Privy Council would establish their own final courts - perhaps like the CCJ. But in the absence of this, he is thinking of how he might draft UK Appeal Court judges to help with the Privy Council workload, although how this would work legally and practically, is not clear.

While Lord Phillips might have expressed a personal opinion, the message would not have been lost to the higher reaches of the British establishment and it is quite possible that his comments represented a first step towards the framing of policy. That makes a civil discussion about the CCJ relevant.

This is a court to which Jamaica contributed a quarter of its US$100 million trust fund to ensure its long-term financing and political independence. Jamaica, however, does not participate in the court because of political disagreements and a ruling by the Privy Council four years ago that the law for Jamaica's accession was unconstitutional.

While a simple majority of Parliament could end appeals to the Privy Council, the law lords held, it required a special majority and a referendum to establish a new court of superior jurisdiction to the island's Court of Appeal. There, of course, are those who campaigned against the CCJ on the grounds that the jurisprudential qualities of a Caribbean court would not be good enough.

Jamaica, like others in the region who do not participate in the court, faces a conundrum. Its money is tied up in an institution from which it derives limited benefit and now there is this signal from Lord Phillips. Clearly, it is time for rational discourse on the matter.

No comments: