October 31, 2012

T&T still to abolish appeals to Privy Council
By Stabroek editor 
Published October 30, 2012
Trinidad and Tobago is yet to abolish criminal appeals to the Privy Council which is to be replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). This despite Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar saying last April in Parliament that the Government will table legislation to make the historic change.

To date however, the People’s Partnership Government is still working out how to access the appellate system, said Sir Dennis Byron, president of the CCJ yesterday. “I wouldn’t say that either Trinidad or Jamaica is having any problems with the CCJ. They are working out internally the method by which they would access our appellate jurisdiction,” Byron said.

He said all Caricom countries had signed an agreement giving the green light for the CCJ to become the final appeal court. Byron was speaking at the ceremony for the signing of a Memorandum Of Understanding between the Caribbean Conference of Heads of Judiciary, the CCJ and the United States’ National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

The MOU will facilitate co-operation in a mutual effort to implement sector reform and enhance the administration of justice for the Caribbean region. The objective also is to increase the capacity of the CCJ to design and implement justice-reform programmes through shared vision, mentorship, knowledge transfer and expertise provided by the NCSC.

Byron said there have been challenges and expressed confidence these will be dealt with successfully. “But in each country there have been, from time to time, various internal hurdles that they have had to overcome. It is my understanding that they have been addressed in different ways in each country.

The countries that came on first were Guyana, Barbados and Belize and in each of the other countries, and there have been various releases from the various  government authorities indicating steps they are taking, we anticipate these steps would be addressed in a most reasonable fashion,” Byron said.

He said once these steps had been worked out, it would pave the way for the respective countries to be part of the appellate court. Asked what was the time frame for such matters to be ironed out, Byron said, “My time frame is not the best one to go by. My time frame is immediate.

“So if I had the ability to make the decision I would do it immediately. But of course I don’t and one has to allow the process to work in the best way in the relevant country.”

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October 29, 2012

CCJ aims to strengthen justice reform in the region

2012-10-28 11:31:27 

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States-based National Centre for State Courts (NCSC).

The MOU, which is scheduled to be signed during a special ceremony in Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow, forms part of the CCJ’s efforts to improve the administration of justice in the Caribbean.

In a statement released yesterday, the CCJ said the MOU will facilitate cooperation in a mutual effort to implement justice sector reforms and enhance the administration of justice for the Caribbean region.

It says the agreement will also allow for cooperation with the NCSC to increase the capacity of the CCJ to design and implement justice reform programmes.

The NCSC has provided technical assistance, training and technology to improve the justice system across the United States and more than 30 countries throughout the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe.

October 04, 2012

Caribbean’s PJ Patterson on EPA:

Caribbean’s PJ Patterson on EPA: Region’s unity was its ‘greatest weapon’Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 Source : Guardian TT

It seems that some nations are more equal than others. A case of David versus Goliath. There is the European Union, one of the world’s largest economic and geo-political blocs, and, on the other hand, Caricom, one of the world’s smallest blocs. The European nations, former colonial masters of the Caribbean, walked away with most of the benefits in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that was signed in 2008, says PJ (Percival Noel James) Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica. “The concept of proportionality has been thrown out the window. Indeed, some are more equal than others. Inequality is evident, no visas are required for entry in most of our countries, while we need a Schengen Visa or United Kingdom permit to step foot on European soil,” he said. The Schengen Visa has made travelling between its 25 member countries (22 European Union states and three non-EU members) much easier and less bureaucratic. Travelling on a Schengen Visa means that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one single visa, in so doing avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas for each country.

The EPA agreement, signed between the EU and Caricom and the Dominican Republic in 2008, saw the Europeans arguing it would gradually open both markets to each other which would aid the Caribbean’s development. Patterson, one of the region’s foremost diplomats and political leaders, tore into the imbalance in the relationship between the EU and the Caribbean region. He spared no words as he painted a picture of the EU as a colonial power unwilling to let go of its former colonies. He attacked the late Robin Cook, the UK’s former foreign secretary, for lacking diplomatic skills and accused the United States’ George Bush administration of taking unilateral action across the globe. He said the “greatest weapon” that the African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) countries had was unity in negotiating as a single group. “No matter the nature and extent of the particular interest of each state or group, we realised there was a commonality of interests. Unless we pursued these negotiations as a single group, the result would be an abject failure. Rival empires had been built on the axis of divide and rule - our unity was our greatest strength,” he said. Patterson accused the European powers of a ruthless policy of divide and conquer, with the ultimate objective to “defeat” developing nations one by one.

“Even the least sceptical person, or the most difficult juror to persuade, must by now have been convinced that the determination of the EU to create regional economic partnership agreement was for one purpose only: that is, to dismantle the formidable arsenal of the ACP combined, to fragment its collective power and then defeat us one by one. To repeat once again how this exposed the Caribbean to the EPA would now be a  quixotic adventure.” Patterson was speaking on international trade at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) International Law Seminar, held at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, on September 27. Patterson noted that other countries in the ACP group are also negotiating EPAs, but none has been completed like the Caricom region. “None of the other six ACP groups, each negotiating separately, has yet concluded a comprehensive EPA to accord with the EU’s allotted timeframe. It seems to go well beyond the realms of trade and economic relations to encompass issues of shrewd sovereignty and areas of supranational governance,” he said.

He painted a gloomy picture, saying that “storm clouds” are beginning to appear four years after the EPA has been signed.

“There is the rate and pace of tariff adjustments in the face of existing budgetary requirements and tight fiscal constraints. Also, the absence of funding obligations as part of the EPA, and these reflected in the European Development Fund (EDF) as part of the Cotonou Agreement. Then you have an area of great potential, which is services, but who will qualify for access from the Caribbean?” he asked. To deal with these issues, Patterson recommended the region develop the technical skills.

“What becomes evident is that within Cariforum in the Caribbean Community itself and also in the member states, we will have to create the range of skills necessary to engage in the proper interpretation of the EPA, the enforcement of the provisions, the settling of disputes, which are bound to arise, and the appearing before the tribunals and courts which have the appropriate jurisdiction.”

WTO and the Caribbean
Patterson said the statistics show a “fair involvement” of Caricom countries in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement system. “They have been involved as both complainants and respondents. The frequent challenges in the WTO to the EC’s regime of non-reciprocal preferences and internal challenges to the Common Agricultural Policy have been bitter pills to the Caribbean. Caricom countries have to put themselves in the best position to seek due protection of their vital interests,” he said. The region must be well prepared for negotiating at these international fora. “It provides another reason why Caricom must ensure that their delegations, whether in Geneva or in Brussels, include not only economists or social scientists, but also lawyers with specialist training in international law and international trade.

Obviously, the same should apply to the manning of the relevant ministries and departments at the domestic level.” He spoke of glaring inconsistencies of the execution of national trade policies and the filing of WTO complaints. “Huge agricultural subsidies, which hurt our local farmers because heavily subsidised agricultural products, can be imported more cheaply. Then there is the threat to the Caribbean rum industry by virtue of huge subsidies on rum from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin islands. “Also, there is the failure to settle with Antigua and Barbuda for violating the General Agreement of Trade in Services by refusing to allow Internet gambling into the US, said Patterson, asking, “Does this evidence point to fair and unequal treatment?”

Caribbean and international law

Patterson advised small Caribbean states to do everything to make its contribution to international law, despite their size.

“For small states lacking military power, like those in the Caribbean, observance of the rule of law is an imperative. We must put our faith in international law to uphold right over might and law over force. We must do everything in our power to ensure that we contribute in a meaningful way to the content of international law,” he said. In highlighting how unfair the international economic and legal system is, Patterson quoted UK’s former foreign secretary Robin Cook on the International Criminal Court (ICC): “If I may so say, this is not a court set up to book prime ministers of the UK and or presidents of the USA.”
Patterson also said: “The Bush administration demanded that signatories to the ICC must expressly consent to the exemption of US citizens from prosecution and trial before the court or suffer the withdrawal of aid supports for defence and security programmes.” Patterson said this clearly implied is an acceptance that the ICC and similar tribunals would exempt leaders of powerful states, no matter “the illegality of their acts,” while those who belong to “lesser breeds” of the law would be subject to punishment.

October 4, 2012

The Caribbean Court of Justice has exemplified a lucidity of logic and learning 

September 12, 2012  - Stabroek News

Dear Editor,
In Saturday’s Stabroek News (September 8) a Jamaican attorney-at-law, Hugh Wildman, reportedly asserted, inter alia, that the quality of judgements of the Privy Council is “far superior” to those emanating from our Caribbean Court of Justice and in purported proof of his conclusion, he cited an unspecified case in Guyana. His credentials seem to be anchored in his practice of unverified ubiquity but, given the notion of contemporary democracy in vogue, a more discerning profession ought to accord his view the merit or otherwise it deserves.

After more than half of a century of gestation the CCJ finally entered this regional space in response to the neo-colonial global construct which continued to bedevil the Caribbean after their respective political Independence ceremonies. Guyana had taken the first step in this direction by abolishing appeals to the Privy Council since 1970. Contemporary wisdom prompted the vision that Independence dictated that Caribbean states ought to compete collectively from a position of parallel or alternative decision-making in every sphere of our statehood.

The CCJ’s rationale and leitmotif were to create and foster an endogenous jurisprudence without peeling away our vestigial linkages with our common law heritage. Out of this well shall be drawn the judicial wisdom but in a more relevant localised form, palatably appealing to the intended or affected consumer. There have been many very perceptive observations over the last decade, or maybe longer, from their Lordships of the Privy Council which supported the establishment of a regional court of last resort.

Guyana, and I had the honour and privilege of representing its interests on this front until I demitted office on December 6, 2011, submitted to both the original and appellate jurisdictions of the CCJ from its incarnation and, speaking for myself, this apex court has exemplified a lucidity of logic and learning, together with a didactic dispassion in its judgements, notwithstanding the profession’s nervous nuances in terms of political influence in its formative years. We should do well to remind ourselves that Justice Michael De La Bastide was a Privy Councillor prior to his appointment as the first President of this court which no doubt has its imperfections, such as its lack of diversity. Speaking from my perspective as a former Justice of Appeal in Guyana, their decisions can withstand the scrutiny of the most forensic analysis humanly possible. Confucius is credited with the aphorism that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I might add “but it is the will to do so that matters more.” To this extent, Marley’s incantations about mental slavery seem to have eluded the psyche of his compatriot. 

I conclude by asking Mr Wildman this question: How would a citizen of the United Kingdom react to the adoption of a Caribbean Court as their final court?

Yours faithfully,
Justice Charles R Ramson SC
Retired Attorney General and 
Minister of Legal Affairs