January 16, 2012

Simpson Miller daring to take Jamaica in different direction

Source: Toronto Star

January 15, 2012

Last month, in an otherwise ordinary election debate, Jamaica’s candidates for prime minister were asked whether they agree with former prime minister Bruce Golding’s infamous stance against having openly gay people in his cabinet.

After then prime minister Andrew Holness of the Jamaican Labour Party hedged on the question, opposition leader Portia Simpson Miller gave an answer previously unthinkable for a Jamaican prime ministerial candidate.

“I do not support the position of the former prime minister, because people should be appointed to positions based on their ability to manage and to lead,” she said. “No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”

Simpson Miller also called for a conscience vote in parliament on Jamaica’s “buggery laws,” which criminalize male homosexual acts.

The unprecedented comments stunned observers, created a firestorm and brought LGBT rights — long a sensitive issue in a country with a reputation for homophobia — to the forefront of the election.

Clive Mullings, the energy minister under the JLP, warned that “God brought down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah.” He was not re-elected. Another JLP member openly mused whether international gay rights organizations were funding the PNP’s campaign.

Some observers predicted Simpson Miller’s stance would spell her demise in the Dec. 29 election. But despite polls that showed the two parties neck and neck, her People’s National Party coasted to victory, collecting 41 seats to the JLP’s 22. The result made the conservative JLP the first one-term administration in the island nation’s modern history.

“It showed how courageous she is,” said Glenda Simms, a renowned feminist who has been an adviser to Simpson Miller. “She knew they could turn it around against her, and they tried. … But she’s not prepared to be a part of that history of discrimination. … She’s going to do whatever she can to break it.”

Simpson Miller, 66, is turning heads by taking aggressive stances on sometimes contentious issues, occasionally going against her own party. (The gay rights issue was not a part of their platform.)

The woman many Jamaicans refer to as “Sista P” has said she intends for Jamaica to jettison the monarchy and become a republic, taking its final — if symbolic — step toward independence. The country celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain in August.

At her swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 5, Simpson Miller argued the Caribbean Court of Justice(CCJ) should be Jamaica’s final court of appeal. It would replace the judicial committee of the Privy Council, a reconstituted panel of judges from the British supreme court. The Trinidad-based CCJ has been underused because Jamaica, Trinidad and others haven’t adopted it.

Holness, 39, called the general election in early December only weeks after being sworn in as prime minister. He took the job after his predecessor Bruce Golding resigned over the handling of the so-called “Dudus affair.”

After spending months fighting gang leader Christopher “Dudus” Coke’s extradition to New York on drug trafficking charges, Golding’s administration bowed to U.S. pressure in May 2010 and sent police and the military into his Kingston compound to take him into custody. The ensuing gun battle caused 73 civilian deaths, and the JLP was widely condemned.

Experts said voter outrage over the Dudus affair and concerns about the economy trumped other issues. Meanwhile, Simpson Miller’s comments about LGBT rights are resonating with the public.

“People have taken it as a signal from the prime minister that there is a new era, a new attitude that needs to be embraced,” said Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, a political science professor at York College of the City University of New York and an expert in Caribbean politics.

Simpson Miller was Jamaica’s prime minister from March 2006 to September 2007. She won the job in an internal party vote when her predecessor P.J. Patterson retired. She narrowly lost her 2007 re-election bid and became leader of the opposition.

She was born in the rural town of Wood Hall in St. Catherine Parish and was first elected to parliament in 1976 with the PNP. She has served in various cabinet positions since 1989.

Glenda Simms was president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women in 1996 when Simpson Miller, then minister of labour, social security and sport, asked her to return to Jamaica to head the country’s Bureau of Women’s Affairs.

Simms returned, impressed by Simpson Miller as “someone who really wanted to make a difference.”

Simms remembers accompanying Simpson Miller to see people in a fire-ravaged inner-city neighbourhood and thinking she was destined to be prime minister one day.

“I thought: ‘This is the kind of leader that everyone needs.’ She listened, she understood their lives and she did not distance herself from them.”

But Simpson Miller, whose campaign emphasized job creation, might have to resort to tough fiscal austerity measures to get her country’s stagnant economy on track. Jamaica is saddled with a public debt load of more than 120 per cent of its GDP — one of the world’s largest debt-to-GDP ratios. The island’s unemployment rate is 12.9 per cent, up from 9.8 per cent in 2007.

Its agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which supplied it with $1.27 billion in 2010, expires in May and must be renegotiated. Those talks, though difficult, appear to be an administration priority: Finance Minister Peter Phillips is due to meet with an IMF team next week.

Simpson Miller’s election continues an anti-incumbent trend in the region. St. Lucia’s ruling party was voted out earlier in the year, and Guyana’s longtime governing party lost significant legislative ground.

It’s a sign that the region’s voters — usually fiercely loyal to one party or another — are feeling less attached, Griffith said. “People are rethinking how they should do their voting and whether they should vote at all.”

Despite the lopsided seat count, Simpson Miller was not elected on a groundswell of public support. The 53 per cent voter turnout is Jamaica’s lowest ever for a general election except that in 1983, when the PNP boycotted the vote. The country’s voter turnout hovered around 85 per cent in the 1980s.

Alissa Trotz, director of the Caribbean studies program at the University of Toronto, said the result shows an overall disaffection with the political process in Jamaica. She said she hopes the PNP recognizes its 41 seats don’t overwhelmingly translate to a majority mandate, given the low turnout.

“It presents Portia with the challenge of reaching across the aisle,” she said.

But Simpson Miller may not always find a willing partner on the other side. In his concession speech on election night, Holness declared, “Our campaign for the next government starts tomorrow.”

January 09, 2012

Privy Council does cost something

by Jeffrey Foreman, Contributor
Source: Jamaica Gleaner

I respond to one aspect of the arguments advanced by Robert Collie in his article 'Use CCJ funding to improve our own courts', published Thursday, January 5.

While no direct cost to maintain the Privy Council is incurred by the Government of Jamaica , there is a cost attached to accessing the court which would either be lessened or not exist at all if the Caribbean Court of Justice were our final court. In this regard, I speak of the cost to taxpayers of having to pay for counsel in the UK or, alternatively, airfare, accommodation and other expenses for anyone travelling to argue before Their Lordships.

Such expenses would clearly be significantly less if the same individuals travelled next door to Trinidad. Moreover, these costs would be eliminated whenever the CCJ, executing part of its role as a roving court, has sittings in Jamaica. To this latter point must be added to the mix the fact that teleconferencing equipment has been installed in all signatory states so that, even if the CCJ was sitting in Trinidad, no government official need pack a single bag to go anywhere.

Individual financial burden

Those same costs faced by the government have to be borne by individuals. It almost need not be said but, whereas the state, even a cash-strapped one like ours, can always allocate funds or raise taxes or borrow to meet its obligations, in this case legal ones, an individual does not have the same latitude.

One can therefore conclude that the cost of accessing the Privy Council must serve as deterrence to any Jamaican who is of the view that justice has not been done at the level of the Court of Appeal. Indeed, most cases from Jamaica involve the State (criminal or constitutional matters), wealthy individuals, or big companies.

In contrast, the trend so far for the CCJ is that more civil cases are being heard by that court. This fact was highlighted by Sir Dennis Byron, president of the CCJ, in a speech titled 'The CCJ and its Integral Role In Development Of Caribbean Jurisprudence', at a lecture hosted by the UWI Cave Hill Law Society in November 2011.

In that same speech, Sir Dennis noted that the court has heard a number of civil appeals in forma pauperis under Rule 10.6 of the CCJ rules.

The cost attached to accessing the Privy Council has the effect of keeping ordinary individuals away from the highest rungs of justice. Indeed, as has been pointed out in many fora, limited access also means that the development of our jurisprudence is restricted to criminal matters and those affecting moneyed interests.

Lastly, I would like to counter the argument being implied by Mr Collie that the money spent to honour our treaty obligations has been wasted on a court which does not help to improve the administration of justice in the country.

In addition to providing the teleconferencing equipment men-tioned earlier, the CCJ, through strengthening the work of Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers, the Caribbean Academy for Law and Court Administration, and the Caribbean Court Technology Users, enhances the administration and delivery of justice in Jamaica and throughout our region.

If, as Justinian noted, "Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render to everyone his due," most Jamaicans will have to satisfy themselves with a placard-bearing type of justice, for it is all they will be able to afford with the Privy Council as our final court.

Jeffrey H. Foreman is a student in the Faculty of Law, UWI, Cave Hill

January 05, 2012

Use CCJ funding to improve our own courts

Source: Jamaica Gleaner - January 5, 2012

I have noticed the stream of letters in your newspaper and elsewhere attesting to the 'need' for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Here are a few facts that may be worth swallowing before the CCJ crowd jumps up and down and trumpets victory:

1 Currently, the Government of Jamaica spends US$3.07 million per annum to maintain this court. We are the biggest financial contributor to a court that was not chosen by the Jamaican people.

2 Currently, the Government of Jamaica spends US$0 to maintain the Privy Council.

3 Trinidad and Tobago, the country that currently hosts the CCJ, has given all indications that it has no intention of joining the CCJ. This may be linked to the history in that country of judges leaving the Bench and becoming actively involved in the political process. The saga of their former chief justice, Satnarine Sharma, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, one could look at the recent involvement of a local resident magistrate, who left the Bench to join the political process, of the very real fact that you will have judges who will have their political biases. I will quote the well-worn line from Lord Hewart CJ in R v Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy: "Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."

4 The British, despite all their protestations, cannot unilaterally dispense with the Privy Council. It is part of the Jamaican Constitution (as is the Queen). It would require the head of state in Jamaica to rid herself of us (which she has every right of doing). However, her role as Queen of England does not, in theory at least, supersede role as Queen of Jamaica.

5 The CCJ only recently appointed a Jamaican to sit on its Bench, a Jamaican who has never served in the judiciary in Jamaica or elsewhere. It is to be noted that a lot of the criticism levelled against the decision in Morin v the Attorney General of Belize targeted the judge's judgment. To even the unseasoned legal scholar, his judgment, in particular, was cause to pause, though one thankfully notes that the outgoing CCJ president, Michael de la Bastide, and Justice Saunders of the same CCJ provided most excellent judgments to counterbalance that judge's judgment.

Appeals to indignation over colonialism is a red herring which should not be given any substantial weight. We do not look to our courts with any special lustre that their being called 'colonial' affects any right-thinking Jamaican. We want our courts to provide predictable, reliable and judicially sound judgments. It has been our experience, in Jamaica at least, that these characteristics don't come out often from our justice system.

Give common man a say

If the CCJ is such that it will meet with the people's desire, and if it is to have the ultimate judgment over the people's lives the people should be allowed to have a say in whether they want the court or not. The feeling that justice is a cloistered virtue that the common man should have no say over may be 'catnip' for the petit-bourgeoisie intelligentsia in our higher-education senior common rooms. However, it does not resonate with the common man.

Maybe if we had more accountability for our judges and people didn't feel that judges were so untouchable and unrelatable, maybe people could start to buy into our justice system and feel that it is an integral part of their lives.

We are spending US$3.07 million a year that could be better spent fixing our local courthouses, training more judges and providing greater access to justice. We could have a main criminal courthouse in Kingston that actually has parking that members of the public and attorneys can have access to. We could even, and this may blow the minds of readers, actually start to clear up the backlog of cases jamming our court system.

One wonders what the almost US$21 million, since inauguration, could have been used for. Hopefully, something more than a shiny building in Port-of-Spain providing fat pay cheques to judges who know as much about the life of the man in Pepper, St Elizabeth, as they know about the life of the man on Broad Street, Bridgetown.

Written by Robert Collie who is an attorney-at-law.

January 02, 2012

JFJ: Referendum for CCJ

JFJ: Referendum for CCJ
Source: Jamaica Gleaner/ Power 106 News

Human rights advocates, Jamaicans for Justice (JF), are maintaining that Government must conduct a referendum to determine whether to set up the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica’s final court of appeal.

Executive Director of JFJ, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, says the matter is too important to not allow citizens to have a say in whether to establish the CCJ as Jamaica's final appellate court.

Dr. Gomes was responding to intentions outlined by the People’s National Party (PNP) in today’s Gleaner, to have the CCJ established in both the original and appellate jurisdictions, in time for the country’s 50th Independence celebrations this year.

If the PNP is successful, the CCJ will replace the London-based Privy Council as Jamaica’s final appellate court.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the former PNP administration, A.J. Nicholson, said given the softening of the Jamaica Labour Party’s stance on the issue, he was confident that the move would be supported by both Houses of Parliament.

However, Dr. Gomes maintains that there are still several issues, particularly regarding the security of the court, that remain a serious cause for concern.

She argues that CCJ Agreement, which establishes the court, can be easily altered by a simple majority of CARICOM prime ministers.

She notes that there was in fact a recent alteration of the Agreement, to amend the terms of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission, the regional body which appoints judges to the court.

The move to institute the CCJ as Jamaica’s final appellate court was an effort commenced by the former P.J. Patterson-led PNP Government, but was strongly opposed by the Edward Seaga- led Opposition, the Jamaica Labour Party.

To date only Barbados, Belize, and Guyana have replaced the Privy Council with the CCJ.

Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have failed to establish the CCJ as their final court of appeal because of continuing disagreements in both countries.