CARIBBEAN COURT SOON?
If Cabinet approves, UK Privy Council will be replaced
Source: Jamaica Observer
BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The Government is closer to a decision on whether to replace the United Kingdom-based Privy Council with the controversial Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the nation's final court of appeal, an administration official disclosed.
National Security Minister Dwight Nelson told a packed hall during a Crime Forum at the Golf View Hotel here Thursday night that a sub-committee of Cabinet, chaired by the deputy prime minister, had been set up to examine the "status of the Caribbean Court of Justice".
Once the sub-committee's report was received, Nelson said, "Cabinet will then make a decision as to the Government's position on the Caribbean Court of Justice. If that decision is to embrace the Caribbean Court of Justice, then the Privy Council will be replaced."
Should the Bruce Golding-led Government support the switch to the CCJ, it would represent a major about face from its period in Opposition when it stridently opposed such efforts by the then People's National Party (PNP) Government.
In 2005, Golding's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), in partnership with rights groups, successfully challenged the setting up of the CCJ as Jamaica's highest court when the Privy Council ruled that such a move would be unconstitutional without endorsement from a referendum or a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Jamaican Parliament.
The JLP claimed at the time that the Court ruling was a victory for justice and the rights of citizens. "We feel that it is more than just a vindication of the position taken by the Jamaica Labour Party. It is indeed a vindication of the rights of the Jamaican people," Golding was quoted as saying at the time.
With the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) continued insistence that the CCJ is the way to go, a turn-about by the JLP would presumably guarantee the required two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Both Nelson and a trio of prominent PNP parliamentarians at the forum - Peter Bunting, the Opposition spokesman on security and the brothers, Dean and Michael Peart - sought to reinforce the message that Government and Opposition were working closely to combat crime through legislative and other measures.
Jamaica's maintenance of the UK-based Privy Council as its final appellate court has come under increasing pressure in recent months, following a statement by Lord Nicholas Phillips, the president of the UK Supreme Court, that the law lords were spending a "disproportionate" amount of time on cases from former colonies, especially the Caribbean.
Currently the appellate jurisdiction of the four-year-old CCJ is limited to Barbados and Guyana, while Jamaica has acceded to its trade provisions for purposes of resolving possible trade disputes.
The 1998 Pratt and Morgan ruling by the British Privy Council that those held on death row for five years or more must have their death sentences commuted fuelled the drive in the Caribbean to set up its highest court.
Inevitably on Thursday night, the non-implementation of the death penalty was a central issue at the crime forum. And Nelson made it clear that he was anxious to have the death penalty for convicted capital murderers resumed.
There have been no State-sanctioned hangings of convicted murderers in Jamaica since 1988 and while the Jamaican Parliament voted in favour of keeping the death penalty on the law books late last year, there is still no indication of a resumption.
The minister told impatient members of the audience on Thursday night that the appeals process in conjunction with the time limitations of the Pratt and Morgan ruling had made it difficult.
"The one way to deal with that is to do as one other Caribbean country has done and that is to change the Jamaican law," Nelson said.
"I know Peter (Bunting) that I will be talking to you about that, because we have to make sure that if you are there for more than five years that we still have the right to hang.
"There were about six people on death row up to recently and because five of them pass the five-year limit, their sentences have been commuted to life. Only one person now below the five-year limit that is eligible to hang (and) believe you me, I am dying to hang one of them." Nelson said to loud applause.
Nelson later told the Observer that he had formed the impression that lawyers representing convicted murderers were frustrating the process.
"Sometimes it is deliberate on the part of the condemned person and their representative," Nelson said. "Sometimes the process is drawn out, sometimes they wait to lodge the appeal and this allows for the expiration of the five-year limit and it is something we are going to have to look at to ensure that appeals are lodged timely and dealt with expeditiously," the minister said.