October 30, 2009

Commonwealth countries 'should stop using privy council'
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Source: Epolitix via Yahoo! UK Ireland News

"To ask Her Majestys government what plans they have to modify the system of appeals from certain Commonwealth countries to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council".

The first question in the House of Lords on Monday, 26 October, turned into an interesting mini-debate on the case for continuing appeals from certain Commonwealth countries to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Lord Bach, on behalf of the government, offered a classic straight bat to proposals for change following the creation of the Supreme Court on 1 October.

In short, he answered my question by stating that all matters relating to the Court's procedures and division of business are for Lord Phillips, who is double-hatted as Chairman of the Board of the Judicial Committee and President of the Supreme Court.

Among those who spoke were: Lord Thomas of Gresford, a practitioner on the Judicial Committee, who stressed the contribution of the Court to Human Rights and the independence of the judiciary and Lord Pannick, who wondered whether the participation of British judges in proceedings that involved the death penalty validated a degrading sentence.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick answered that when he sat on such appeals he was trying to apply the law of the country in question.

Lord Morris of Handsworth, of West Indian origin, asked about possible government assistance to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Unspoken were concerns that to "repatriate" appeals might reduce the quality of justice by leading to political interference in decisions and a view that these appeals were an anachronistic hangover from Empire.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, now part of the Supreme Court, was set up under the Judicial Committee Act of 1833. Its jurisdiction currently comprises appeals from about 15 independent Commonwealth states (mostly former UK colonies in the Caribbean), British Overseas Territories, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Lord Phillips was quoted in the Financial Times of 21 September as saying that he was searching for ways to curb the, "disproportionate time" he and his fellow senior justices spent on these appeals and that he was concerned that up to 40 per cent of their working hours would be spent on Privy Council business.

He was prepared to draft in the Court of Appeal judges to help out but, "in an ideal world" former Commonwealth countries would stop using the Privy Council and establish their own courts of appeal.

The Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London was quoting as saying that it was, "a minor public scandal" that our senior judges spent almost half their time on business, "of no interest to anyone in the UK".

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was established in 2001 by the Caribbean community (Caricom) States and was formally inaugurated in 2005.

It is designed to be a court of last resort for the 12 current members and thus to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Yes, over many years, the Law Lords have had a most positive influence on the Commonwealth on good governance, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and on the role of the profession generally.

It is also true that the CCJ has been slow to gain acceptance and legitimacy because of inter-Caribbean rivalries, professional inertia and lack of resources.

Ultimately, it should replace the Privy Council and surely the British government should be ready to help it along that route on the basis of mutual interest.

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