July 18, 2011

FAREWELL: Outgoing CCJ president pleased regional court has silenced critics


Sat, 16 Jul 2011 08:40:00
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Outgoing President of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Michael de la Bastide Friday he was satisfied that the regional court has gone a long way “towards persuading the doubting Thomases” and silencing critics about its performance.
Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Outgoing President of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Michael de la Bastide Friday he was satisfied that the regional court has gone a long way “towards persuading the doubting Thomases” and silencing critics about its performance.

Speaking at a special sitting of the court to mark his retirement, Justice de la Bastide, 74, said that six years after the court was inaugurated, “I venture to suggest the Court’s record of performance to date suggests that it is capable of assuming the dual responsibility of interpreting and applying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and …shaping and developing the regional jurisprudence as the final court of appeal for the English-speaking Caribbean”.

The CCJ which has both an original and appellate jurisdication, also operates as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the regional integration grouping.

However while most of the countries are signatories to the original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana and Belize are members of the appellate jurisdiction of the court that was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court.

Justice de la Bastide, the CCJ’s first president, said that with only three countries subscribing to the court’s appellate jurisdiction, “we can hardly claim complete success in winning the confidence of peoples of CARICOM.

“I think however we have gone a significant distance towards persuading the doubting Thomases and disarming our critics. This I suggest is due to three factors.

“The first is the favourable commentaries which our judgments have for the most part received. The second is the user friendly techniques and technologies which the Court has adopted to facilitate access to it and the efficient and timely disposition of cases. The third is the growing appreciation by the public in general and lawyers in particular of the measures which the CARICOM heads of government have to their credit taken to ensure the independence of the Court.”

He said these measures are to be found in the various instruments by which the CCJ and its support bodies, the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) and the CCJ Trust Fund.

“The architecture of these bodies, their composition, powers and functions and the relationship between them, was carefully and consciously designed after consultation with important stakeholders. The primary purpose was to protect the Court from political and other extraneous influence and to give it every chance of becoming a quality court.

“The steps taken have evoked the admonition and envy of many other regional and international tribunals,” he said.

But the outgoing head of the Trinidad-based court, said he was using the opportunity of the special sitting “to warn and advise strongly against any proposal, however well intentioned, which would remove or abridge the Court’s rights in relation to its own budget in the name of correcting an alleged but illusory ‘flaw’ in the governance structure of the Court and Commission.

“In this connection I would remark in passing that I have great respect for businessmen. As they say, some of my best friends are businessmen, but the training and experience of businessmen do not equip them to identify and assess the needs of a court, far less one with two jurisdictions!

“Perhaps the point is more tellingly made in the penultimate recital in the preamble to the protocol which was agreed by the Court, the Commission and the Trustees to govern their relations,” he added.

Justice De la Bastide said before tampering “with the carefully balanced architecture of the Court and Commission, we would also do well to remember that no one has yet devised a means of insulating businessmen from political pressure”.

During his farewell speech, the outgoing CCJ president paid tribute to the people who had been instrumental in the successful operations of the court over the last six years adding that they will be fortified on September 1 by the assumption of office by the new President Sir Dennis Byron.

“They will constitute a court which in my estimation, can be relied upon to perform to a standard of excellence that can match that of any court in the Commonwealth - or indeed on this planet,” he added.

Justice de la Bastide also acknowledged the role played by the RJLSC, reiterating that “in every case, their appointment as Commissioners is free of any hint of political influence.

“ The confidence of the Heads in the independence and judgment of the Commission is attested to by the protocol to the Agreement which entrusts the Commission with the responsibility of deciding whether to extend the tenure of the President beyond the normal retirement age notwithstanding that the President is also Chairman of the Commission subject to the caveat that the Chairman shall not take part in any deliberations or decision of the Commission relating to the matter.”

Justice de la Bastide told the special sitting that he had “the good fortune as President to captain a very strong team indeed.

“That being the case, two things follow. One is that just as the captain of a weak team may escape blame for its defeat, so too the captain of a strong team must acknowledge the role of his team-mates in achieving a successful result.

“The other consequence is that the team must not be allowed to disintegrate or to deteriorate. Hence, my conviction that it would be nothing short of a tragedy for this region if the CCJ were allowed for whatever reason or by whatever means either to depart the scene altogether or to compromise the standards of excellence which it has set itself and has so far achieved.”

The outgoing CCJ president said he did not think that “future generations will easily forgive us for such a wanton waste of a unique opportunity.

“I make no apology for saying I am proud of this Court and I am comforted by the knowledge as I take my leave that it is in good hands. Naturally, I shall continue to follow its progress with great interest and attention,” he added.