October 07, 2009

AG 'may limit' appeal cases to Privy Council

Source: Tribune : www.tribunemedia.net

THE Attorney General's Office is considering limiting the number of appeal cases sent from the Bahamas to the Privy Council in response to comments made by a leading UK judge over the "disproportionate" amount of time the body spends hearing cases from former colonies.

Brent Symonette, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Attorney General, said his office is looking into the implications stemming from the recent remarks by Lord Nicholas Phillips, president of the UK's new Supreme Court.

"As a result of Lord Phillips' ruling, the AG's office is looking at the implications of the ruling and no doubt in short order I will be having discussions with the Prime Minister and my Cabinet colleagues as to the way forward," he said.

It is unclear whether Government will seriously consider splitting from the UK Privy Council in favour of having its final appeal cases heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) -- the only regional alternative to the UK court, or create another final appellate court.

When asked if there would be any constitutional changes if the Bahamas were to leave the Privy Council and sign on to the CCJ, Mr Symonette said: "I don't want to add more to it than I've already done. We'll look at it to see the implications of Lord Phillips (statements) regarding current matters before the Privy Council.

"It may be that one course of action may be to limit the (number of) appeals from the Court of Appeal to the Privy Council -- that might be an alternative."

Although the CCJ was established in 2001, there has been resistance by many countries in the region to use it as a final court of appeal. Currently the CCJ only adjudicates cases from Barbados and Guyana.

Former Attorney General Alfred Sears recently said the country should quickly divorce itself from the Privy Council in favour of the CCJ, claiming that as part of CARICOM the Bahamas has made financial contributions to the judicial body.

When asked to disclose what, if any, financial assistance the Bahamas has given the CCJ, Mr Symonette said he did not know those figures off-hand.

Speaking to The Financial Times newspaper recently, Lord Phillips said he is looking for ways to reduce the "disproportionate" amount of time judges who staff the Privy Council also spend on cases coming from outside the UK, mostly on cases from former colonies.

He also questioned whether some Privy Council cases, which have ranged from Jamaican death row appeals to fights over press freedom in Bermuda, needed to be heard by a panel of five of Britain's most senior judges.

His comments sent shockwaves throughout the region and were seen by legal experts as a warning that Britain might take steps to shake off the colonial hangover the institution represents, leaving countries like the Bahamas to find or create another final court of appeal.

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