October 27, 2009

CCJ judge says it is insulting to continue using British Privy Council


As the debate rages over the wisdom of using the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final court of appeal in the region, one of the court’s justices says it is insulting to continue using the British Privy Council.

“There was a time when we had no choice but to utilise the Privy Council as our final court of appeal,” Justice Adrian Saunders told a St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Independence Luncheon in Brooklyn on Sunday.

“But today, in my view, it is an insult to the dignity of our people that we should continue to entrust the tasks of adjudging our disputes and protecting our democracy to the judges of another civilization, especially when we have established our own final court,” he added.

The Vincentian-born jurist, the only justice from the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean Court (OECS) currently sitting on the CCJ, was the keynote speaker at the event marking St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ 30th anniversary of political independence on Tuesday.

Justice Saunders said abolishing appeals to the Privy Council, “in effect, completes the circle of our independence,” adding that scepticism against the Trinidad and Tobago-based CCJ “boils down to a lack of faith, an absence of trust.

“It is this same scepticism, this absence of confidence that the faint-hearted experienced when we established our own University of the West Indies in Jamaica in 1948; when we began training our own doctors; when we established our own Council of Legal Education in 1970 to train our own lawyers; when we, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, proceeded to Associated Statehood in 1969; and when, ultimately, we obtained political independence 30 years ago,” he said.

“The historians will record that, at every single one of these stages, there have been those timorous souls who were unable to bring themselves to believe in their own capacity as a proud people to deliver a quality product and to be as good as the best anywhere else.”

Justice Saunders said the region’s people will never advance if they continue to regard themselves as being inferior.

“Yes, it is a challenge, but I believe we are perfectly capable of fashioning and maintaining appropriate institutions; and, in the judicial field in particular, the Caribbean has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to produce outstanding jurists acclaimed throughout the world, even as their exploits are rarely mentioned in the region,” he said.

The judge said two United Nations’ Specialised Criminal Courts are headed by Caribbean nationals, identifying them as Jamaican Judge, Patrick Robinson, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and Sir Dennis Byron, a Kittitian, who is President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Recently, president of the new Supreme Court in Britain, Lord Phillips, called on Caribbean countries to establish their own final court of appeal.

Lord Phillips told London’s Financial Times newspaper that he plans to curb the “disproportionate” time he and his fellow senior justices have been spending in hearing legal appeals from independent countries from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries to the Privy Council.

Lord Phillips added that, “in an ideal world,” former Commonwealth countries would stop using the Privy Council and set up their own final courts of appeal instead.

The CCJ, established by regional governments in 2001, has both an original and appellate jurisdiction.

But, while most of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are members of the original jurisdiction that 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), only Barbados and Guyana have signed on to the appellate jurisdiction.

Justice Saunders said the short answer to stop using the Privy Council is “because they would like us to stop burdening them with our appeals”.

But he added there is a “more fundamental reason” why the region needs its own court, stating that law is a “social tool” and that the function of a final court is to use this tool “to make the society a better place, in order to protect and enhance our democracy.”

“Judges who sit and reside in the Caribbean are better equipped to perform this role,” Justice Saunders emphasised.

“They are near to and aware and sensitive of the values, traditions, customs and norms of our people,” he added.

“The truth of the matter is that no judge can be fully effective if the judge is out of touch, if the judge has no personal insights into the broad values of the society and does not understand, appreciate and personally experience the consequences of the judgments the judge delivers.”

Justice Saunders applauded the Guyana and Barbados governments for replacing the Privy Council with the CCJ as their final court almost five years ago.

“And people of those states have expressed satisfaction with the performance of the court. I know that it won’t be long before the other states in the region come on board,” he added

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