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Caricom, the uninformed indifference

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, January 22, 2014    

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‘CLUELESS on Caricom’ was a headline in the Sunday Gleaner of 12th January that stated “Most Jamaicans don't know the role of the regional body”.

We would venture to say that this realisation also exists with other Caricom states.

This admission revealed by the Bill Johnson Survey sponsored by the Jamaica National Building Society, is that 45 per cent of interviewees said Caricom was good for Jamaica, while 23 per cent were unsure, and 12 per cent believed Caricom was bad for Jamaica, while 20 per cent admitted they did not know.

It is the 55 per cent of varied negative response that indicates a high degree of what might be termed “culpable ignorance”, which represents the negative nub of more than half of the respondents.

This is cause for concern. For years, the Caricom Secretariat has been participating in several forums and other media forms of expression that should at least have informed Caricom nationals of their citizenship status and the likelihood of future expansion of the regional group into French, Spanish and Dutchspeaking territories, with a unified community jurisprudence administered by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The existence and function of the CCJ was brought sharply into focus when the case of Shanique Myrie was successfully argued by a Jamaican law firm, a result which ended with a bitter lesson for the Barbadian Immigration Service and a financial reward granted to Ms Myrie — although not yet paid by the Barbadian Government.

The code of expected harass-free behaviour by regional Customs organisations has now been established for the guidance and protection of future Caricom travellers.

It is essential that the uninformed majority of respondents become aware of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC), presently being reformed, that established the Caribbean Community, and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that interprets the law and administers justice according to the RTC.

The following is a brief review of the CCJ by Justice Pollard (recently retired from the CCJ): “The genesis of the Caribbean Court of Justice dates as far back as when an editorial in the Daily Gleaner [in] Jamaica surmised that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) was out of joint with the times, and serious consideration should be given to establish for the region a court of last resort.

The idea of a regional court of last resort was again canvassed at a meeting of colonial governors of the Commonwealth Caribbean in Barbados in 1947, but did not commend itself to the gathering.

At the Sixth Heads of Government Conference in Kingston (1970), the Jamaican delegation proposed the establishment of a Caribbean Court of Appeal, but once again the proposal did not commend itself to the meeting.

Subsequent meetings addressing the issue of establishing a Caribbean Court of last resort took place within the portals of the Caribbean Community which saw the matter to a successful conclusion on 14th December 2001, when the agreement was signed by member states of Caricom establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice at Bridgetown Barbados.”

After Jamaica has invested US$27 million in the CCJ, the additional expenditure called for by those who support the establishment of a domestic court of last resort suggests it is unaffordable any time in the future. If such resources were available, they could be more beneficially employed to improve the substandard conditions of the local judiciary and the physical infrastructure of the present court system.

The debate continues since Jamaica signed the agreement establishing the CCJ with both appellate and original jurisdictions on December 14, 2001.

The move away from the UK Privy Council and the adoption of the CCJ as the final court of appeal in Jamaica has not yet been achieved. Entering into the new environment of the CSME, there may well be a variety of actions concerning interpretation and, in particular, matters arising from application of the nine protocols amending the RTC. Also on the horizon is the possible advent of the logistics hub project that will surely require the involvement of the CCJ.

It is also possible that a State may take unilateral action in retaliation for a perceived infringement of its sovereignty, and it is in these circumstances that the CCJ will be required to adjudicate.

The CSME is modelled on the European Community created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, but with some major differences. While the EU is composed of sovereign states, there is a level of political integration with a European Parliament and a central bank which administer to the states in the union.

In the case of Caricom, there are 14 sovereign states without any political union at the community level. The question then arises as to how these sovereign states will conform to the modified Treaty of Chaguaramas. The CCJ has, then, to provide the legal framework and Caribbean jurisprudence to ensure compliance with the treaty and its interpretation.

It is imperative that the Caricom Secretariat intensify its efforts at educating citizens about Caricom, by whatever means at their disposal, to reduce the number of uninformed persons before the CSME gets up to speed.

In this regard, donors should be canvassed to assist with the campaign that is essential in improving the status quo regionally and at the national level, particularly in the deserving case of Jamaica.

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