The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has high regard for The Gleaner and consistently takes careful note of the editorial opinions expressed. It is then with surprise that we read The Gleaner's editorial of June 29 titled 'JLP needs clear position on CCJ'.
It reads, in part: "... Time for Andrew Holness to end his party's cat-and-mouse game on Jamaica's accession to the criminal and civil jurisdictions of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)." And continues, "If the Jamaica Labour Party doesn't want the court, it must assert its position with clarity, including saying why. If, however, it supports the court, but genuinely believes that the final decision on it ought to rest with the Jamaican people in a referendum, we expect to hear a commitment from the JLP to campaign for a 'yes' vote in a plebiscite."
A cursory look at The Gleaner archives will reveal the consistency of the JLP's position on the CCJ through Edward Seaga, Bruce Golding and now Andrew Holness and myself.
The evidence shows that on December 4, 2000, The Gleaner published an article titled 'Forget the CCJ - Seaga urges Gov't to focus on economy, education, crime'. In that said article, Mr Seaga, who was leader of the JLP and the Opposition at the time, stated:
"Is the establishment of a Caribbean Court an issue deliberately promoted by Government to sidetrack our attention from the real issues of crime, education and the economy which are real priorities?" he asked. He called on the Government to "let the people speak in a referendum now".
He continued: "We do not want a court which can be influenced by Mr (P.J.) Patterson, but one that can be influenced only by justice." He added that it was a "reflection itself of the injustice of which Mr Patterson's Government is capable that he will not allow the people to voice their own position on this vital issue in a referendum".
This position is no different from that of the current JLP leader, Andrew Holness, who in his contribution to the Budget Debate stated: "Right now, the only focus of any government is to get our debt down, get our revenues up, get growth going, provide education for our people; that is the sole focus now of any government."
That could be considered JLP position number one: focus on the economy.
Mr Seaga's position was further restated in his response to the PNP Government's resistance to the idea of a referendum. In a Gleaner story on May 18, 2003 titled 'Allow the people to decide - Seaga', Mr Seaga was quoted as saying:
"In my term as prime minister, I took many decisions that were unfavourable to my party but which I knew were in the best interest ... were important to the survival of the country," Mr Seaga said. "It should not be that the prime minister is afraid to lose out in a referendum ... . It should be about giving the people the opportunity to choose (their) final court of appeal ... to allow them to choose the type of justice they want ... . This is a fundamental right."
So the JLP's position that the court must only be established as Jamaica's final appellate court through referendum is not new.
This position was not only articulated by Mr Seaga but also by Mr Golding. In another Gleaner story on May 13, 2003 titled 'JLP to vote for CCJ if referendum is allowed, says Golding', Mr Golding stated in a context that the JLP will support the CCJ if the Patterson Government at the time committed to calling a referendum on the matter:
Not holding back
"Give us the undertaking that if we vote with you, you will do a referendum," Mr Golding challenged. "I would never want to give you the impression that we are holding back. I can speak for this side ... . I think I can speak for the entire Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) ... that we will support you, if, before the court convenes its first sitting, the people's view will be sought."
This same position has been clearly articulated by me on occasions too numerous to mention.
In 2005, Mr Golding went even further. The Gleaner of July 4 reported that: "Speaking at a press conference in St Lucia following a meeting between CARICOM prime ministers and opposition leaders, Golding used the platform to call for referendums in CARICOM member states to decide the fates of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)."
Mr Golding, while prime minister, maintained the referendum position throughout his Government's tenure.
Over the last decade, the JLP's position has been that in order for the CCJ to have full protection under the Constitution of Jamaica, a mere two-thirds majority is not enough.
This position is not new and was also proffered by current leader of government business in the Senate and former attorney general and justice minister, A.J. Nicholson. In The Gleaner of January 29, 2000, in a news story titled 'Gov't would go for CCJ entrenchment':
"It may be eminently desirable that the court be entrenched. If all parties and stakeholders agree on that question, then the Constitution requires that a referendum be held. This is so because the amendment section of the Constitution (Section 49) would itself have to be amended and it can be amended only by a process of referendum."
Not only does Mr Nicholson, in his former self, agree with the JLP's position, but he also explains why the JLP's position is legally sound and preferable. It is interesting that in Senator Nicholson's eyes, that position is no longer "eminently desirable".
Section 49 of the Jamaica Constitution would afford the CCJ the protection it needs from the whims and fancies of any future prime minister or government. Additionally, abolishing the right of a person to seek appeals to the Privy Council should not be left to the determination of politicians, but to the people.
A referendum on the CCJ would not only give the people a chance to choose but would concurrently present the opportunity for all stakeholders to educate their various constituencies on the issues related to the establishment of the court for Jamaica. This would be a mass education effort that will benefit the nation as a whole and create greater awareness of the justice system not only at the local level but also at the appellate level.
It is sad that the PNP, a party that advocates people power, would evolve to the position that the people should not be given the ultimate power of choosing their way.
The JLP's position is by no means a comment on Caribbean jurisprudence. We are not in support of the CCJ being used as a political mirage to hide the real issues that face the nation. As a nation we must focus on the grave challenges that face us.
We say if the nation wants the CCJ as its final appellate court, let the nation decide in a referendum. Anything less would be a comment on the confidence we, as a nation, have in our democracy.
Delroy Chuck is opposition spokesperson on national security and justice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.