CCJ: Beware the politicians in (judges') robes, the wolves in sheep's clothing

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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As a country, we have never been as afflicted by intellectual schizophrenia as we are with the decision on whether to accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final court of appeal, replacing the United Kingdom Privy Council.

Jamaica is not the only one to be so afflicted, it would seem, because only four Caribbean Community (Caricom) nations have made the CCJ their final appellate court since it was established in 2001 and began operating in 2005.

The reason for this dual personality in Caricom countries is no doubt related to the fact that bright people who are for regional integration can see both the advantages and disadvantages of having a CCJ.

Indeed, it is instructive that the majority of the 15 member countries of Caricom have signed on to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ — which functions as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional bloc — while only Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Guyana have signed on to the appellate jurisdiction.

This suggests to us that those who are hesitant to replace the UK Privy Council with the CCJ are not saying that regional judges are inferior. They trust them to interpret the revised treaty, which is critical to holding together the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.

The main stumbling block in the way of making the CCJ the final court of appeal is the overwhelming view that our politicians, most of them at any rate, are irrevocably in love with their own sense of power to intervene, adversely, we might add, in the running of local and regional institutions.

We in this space have in the past embraced the notion of a Caribbean court of appeal that might enrich regional jurisprudence and conceivably be less expensive to access than the London-based UK Privy Council.

But over the years we have grown more despondent as we see the propensity of the political 'old boys' club' to rob our institutions of the impartiality that is paramount to public confidence in their integrity.

Until we are certain that we will have in place a legal superstructure that mirrors the confidence inspired by the Privy Council — untouchable by local politics — it would be foolhardy to make the CCJ our final appellate court.

No country which means itself well would go that route at this time. That is why we fully understand the sentiments expressed by Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart who has indicated his intention to pull the island out of the CCJ's appellate jurisdiction if his Democratic Labour Party wins a third term in today's general elections there.

“I'm not going to have Barbados disrespected by any politicians wearing robes. It is not going to happen,” he has declared.

We in this space have never lost sight of the collective wisdom of the Grenadian people who voted against the CCJ by a margin of 9,492 in favour and 12,434 against in a 2016 referendum, despite the fact that the leaders of government were in favour of the CCJ.

A second referendum on the CCJ is being now organised in Grenada. We would not be surprised if the results are the same as 2016.

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