How many of us could really go to the Privy Council, Holness?


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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IN opposition to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has gone as far as having senators sign pre-dated resignation letters which he keeps for use to "resign" any senator who may intend to vote against the stance.

There was a time when the JLP was in full support of us having the CCJ. This change to a hard-line opposition has never been fully explained by the party for the simple reason that there is no rational explanation. It appears from a letter written by Andrew Holness to the Daily Gleaner published on Friday, May 15, 2015 that the CCJ is now being seen by the JLP as a process of re-establishing a West Indian Federation. This is such an infantile level of reasoning that should be a source of fright to all of us given that it is coming from a former prime minister who is seeking now to be prime minister again.

But Holness went further in his said letter by attempting to tie the CCJ with what he refers to as "the Buggery Act". I take it that he was referring to Section 76 of the Offence Against the Persons Act, which makes buggery a crime. How Holness has been able to connect buggery to the CCJ in his mind is a mystery.

If this is the best reasoning Holness can bring to the issue of the CCJ, then it would be best that he remains silent.

Holness needs to face the reality that the Privy Council is not a people's court. It is not accessible to Jamaicans, and I dare him to state the number of his constituents who have taken a case to the Privy Council. My suspicion is that no citizen from Holness's constituency has ever had his case dealt with by the Privy Council.

As a country, we should avoid remaining with the Privy Council until we suffer the humiliation of being kicked out of the jurisdiction of that court.

It should not be ignored that in rejecting the CCJ in preference to the Privy Council, the JLP is sending a message to us that it has no confidence in the ability of judges from the Caribbean to preside in a competent court. The JLP is saying that it has no confidence in the Jamaican people and Caribbean people to preside in a court of competence.

If that is so, how then can Holness maintain that this is the court for us. I have been practising law for 34 years now and, while I have visited the Privy Council while on visits to London, I have never appeared in that court and I am not unique. I believe not even five per cent of the lawyers in Jamaica have ever appeared in the Privy Council in a matter.

So what we have here is that the vast majority of lawyers in Jamaica have never appeared before their final court of appeal and the vast majority of citizens have never had their case dealt with there.

As we have seen in the Shanique Myrie case, the CCJ will come to Jamaica and hear matters from Jamaica. This will make the court far more accessible and will make it less expensive.

Further, anyone, including the attorneys in matter, wishing to attend the Privy Council must apply to the British for a visa to travel to London. Apart from the fact that the cost of applying for the visa is high, the British authorities may refuse to issue a visa to the litigant or the attorney, thereby depriving them of the right to be heard by our final court of appeal. What Holness and the JLP are advocating is the maintenance of a system whereby the right of Jamaicans to free access to their final court of appeal is subject to a foreign Government allowing them access to that right.

On arrival in England the litigant and the attorney involved will need accommodation for the time they have to stay in London for the case and they will have to meet transportation costs. London is one of the most expensive cities and hotels in London cost in the region of 300 to 400 pounds sterling ($50,000) per night. How many Jamaicans can afford this?

It is not a wise approach to subject a court to political campaigning. Both parties should be mature enough to meet and to agree on the court. Let us avoid hauling the CCJ into political cass cass, even though those who oppose the court are entitled to do so, but should bring objective and sensible reasoning to the table.

My question to both Houses of Parliament, have you ever attended the Privy Council, your final court, whether as a litigant or as a visitor? If you haven't, and hold some of the highest seats in the land, how many regular citizens have ever and could ever go to the Privy Council whether as a visitor or a litigant? The answer to these questions should inform us as to whether or not the Privy Council should continue as our final court.

Linton P Gordon is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to

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