June 17, 2010

EDITORIAL- Mr Golding and the CCJ

Published: Thursday | June 17, 2010
Source: Jamaica Gleaner

It is perhaps more than symbolic that the Jamaican authorities had no objection that Governor General Sir Patrick Allen this week administered the oath of office to Professor Winston Anderson as a judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and that Prime Minister Bruce Golding spoke in appreciative, though measured, terms of the performance of the CCJ in its five years.

The decisions of the court, Mr Golding said, had inspired confidence and the justices in their rulings had "sought to lay a foundation on which the future of the court can be built".

If we are right, Mr Golding's posture had to do with more than the fact that Justice Anderson, until lately the executive director of the Caribbean Law Institute in Barbados, is a Jamaican of whom the prime minister is understandably proud.

It seems likely that Mr Golding will at next month's summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders indicate that his government has completed its re-evaluation of Jamaica's absence from the court and is now ready to begin to plan its accession. That is the difficult bit.

Vehement opposition

The governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), under Golding's leadership and before, used to be vehemently opposed to the CCJ in its role as the court of last resort in criminal and civil matters.

Although they did not always express it this frankly, an underlying theme of those who opposed the court was mistrust for the moral fibre and the intellectual and jurisprudential acumen of regional judges. The more openly expressed concern, however, was for the independence of the CCJ, which the party continued to advance even after it was clear that the court was insulated against political intrusions.

Mr Golding's party guided a successful constitutional challenge at the Privy Council against Jamaica's participation in the CCJ as was then contemplated. The PM, though, would have had his mind concentrated by last October's complaint by Lord Nicholas Phillips, the chief justice of Britain's new Supreme Court, that Privy Council cases occupied too much of the time of his judges. He hinted at farming out some of these cases to judges of lower courts.

The JLP's retreat from its former positions may cause Mr Golding political discomfiture. More problematic, however, is how he manages the accession to the CCJ - assuming this is the course being contemplated - given the Privy Council's ruling that the CCJ first has to be constitutionally entrenched before it can be a superior court to Jamaica's Court of Appeal. This would require special parliamentary majorities and, ultimately, a referendum.

Standing Parliamentary committee

That seems doable. The People's National Party's is supposed to be a strong supporter of the CCJ, which it had a major hand in fashioning when it formed the government. But strange things happen in politics.

Which is why we repeat our suggestion for the establishment of a standing parliamentary committee on security, legal and justice matters, through which there can be constant cross-party dialogue on critical issues - including the CCJ. Additionally, there is probably the need for a summit between Mr Golding and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller to start to thaw the political freeze that has continued for too long.

Additionally, Mr Golding should unveil any new thinking on the CCJ to the Jamaican people before he takes it to CARICOM.