November 24, 2009

Jamaica and the Caribbean Court of Justice and regional integration

Commentary: Jamaica and the Caribbean Court of Justice and regional integrationPublished on Tuesday, November 24, 2009
By Oscar Ramjeet
Source: C

Dr Oswald Harding, who was the attorney general of Jamaica when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was first touted in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, has explained to me why Jamaica has not yet abolished appeals to the Privy Council and joined the CCJ as the final court.

The former Jamaica Attorney General and his Trinidad and counterpart, Selwyn Richardson, were moving from island to island encouraging governments to join the regional court, but after 20 years these two countries are still to accept the CCJ as the final Court.

Dr Harding, who is now the President of the Senate, in an exclusive interview with me said that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has always been in favour of the regional Court, but said that there were a few distractions in the 1990s: Richardson was murdered and the JLP lost the government among others.

He explained that the Peoples National Party government under P.J. Patterson then started to railroad activities in a move to remove the Privy Council as the final court by passing legislation without consulting the JLP, which was later struck down by the London-based Privy Council.

He added that the Jamaican government is contributing 27% of the costs to run and administer the Court and has not been getting any benefit whatsoever since it has not joined the Appellate Division because the Privy Council is still the final Court and he referred to the attitude of the CCJ Judges.

The Senior Counsel said that he is not happy with the composition of the Court and pointed out that seven highly qualified and experienced Jamaican lawyers had applied for a position in the Court, but they were all turned down in favour of less experienced candidates.

Touching on talks and discussions about Caribbean integration, the President of the Senate referred to a publication "integrate or perish". He said that there is too much talk and less action in this regard and referred to the stand taken by some regional governments on the question of freedom of movement.

He said that some governments change the goal post when it is convenient to them and there must be a change of attitude.

Meanwhile, Jamaican Attorney General, Dorothy Lightbourne, indicated to me that her country is about to take steps to remove the Privy Council as the final Court, and Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has already tabled a Motion in Parliament to amend the Constitution to facilitate the CCJ as the final Court.

In fact the Belize Government, although there is no need for a referendum to effect the change, has launched public aware consultations throughout the country to sensitise constituents on the proposed constitutional changes.

A few other countries, including Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, have signalled their interest in joining the regional Appellate Court as well.

The Trinidad and Tobago Government is willing to go on board, but before it can do so it has to get the sanction of the Opposition since it requires two thirds majority in order to secure the amendment.

Only two countries, Guyana and Barbados, are members of the Appellate Jurisdiction of the Court, which was established more than four years ago.

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