CCJ — an idea whose time has not yet come

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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KEEN observers of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) would have felt a sense of gratitude to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding for his very studious assessment of the future of the court in his Sunday Observer article headlined 'What now for the CCJ?'

Mr Golding came as close to objective as one can reasonably get in taking an omnibus look at the possible fate of the CCJ following the decisive “no” votes in Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda against the CCJ becoming their final court of appeal.

In their second referendum on the CCJ, Grenadians this month voted “no” by 12,133 to 9,846 yes votes. In their first referendum, also this month, Antiguans voted “no” by 9,234 as against 8,509 yes votes.

By very clear majorities, those voters said they were not yet prepared to replace the United Kingdom Privy Council with the CCJ. What is instructive is that the ruling parties — which were coming off huge electoral victories — supported the “yes” movement to no avail.

Readers will recall that Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell's party won all the seats and Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne's party got all but two seats in general elections earlier this year.

In conceding defeat, both leaders expressed disappointment at the failure of their administrations to get the majority of voters to support the Trinidad-based CCJ. Importantly, they have also indicated they would not be going that route again in the foreseeable future.

Thus far, only Barbados, Guyana, Dominica, and Belize have signed on to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ. All the Caribbean Community (Caricom) member nations seem satisfied to have the court operate as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional integration movement.

By their collective wisdom, Caribbean people have said to their leaders that they are not yet at a place in which they can trust their court of last resort to a local institution. Honest people understand why.

There has been too long a history of local politicians manipulating even institutions of justice to have their corrupt way. That has started to change, especially given external pressure, but the process has been much too slow.

To be sure, the court has gone some way in trying to show that its judges are beyond political influence, but one swallow doth not a summer make. The stench of corruption will take a great deal more disinfectant before Caribbean populations will breathe easier.

Nor do we buy into this airy-fairy business about Caribbean sovereignty and cultural pride when a critically serious matter like justice is at stake.

Mind you, as a concept the CCJ cannot be faulted. It would be great to have the final appeal court based in our region; if for no other reason than that it would greatly enhance Caribbean jurisprudence.

It is just that it is an idea whose time has not yet come. When it has, by that same collective wisdom, Caribbean people, including Jamaicans, will welcome it with open arms.

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