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JLP ready to support Portia's CCJ bid

Opposition firm on Caribbean Court over Privy Council

BY CONRAD HAMILTON Observer senior reporter hamiltonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 09, 2012    

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DESPITE strident objection in the past, the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) now seems set to support plans by the Portia Simpson Miller administration to end Jamaica's relationship with the United Kingdom-based Privy Council.

The prime minister said that she would replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica's final appellate court.

Such a move, she argued, would "end judicial surveillance from London".

Former general secretary of the JLP and Member of Parliament for North Central St Andrew Karl Samuda has said that his party had no major issue with the plan articulated by the new prime minister.

"I am a little concerned about the fact that there aren't more members, because that poses a challenge, but actually, in principle, I have no problem with the CCJ because we have to come to grips with the realisation that as a people in the region, we must be self-determined in terms of establishing an appellate court that will govern the affairs of the respective territories," he said.

In February 2005 the PJ Patterson-led administration was forced to adjust plans to make the CCJ Jamaica's final appellate court as a result of a UK-based Privy Council ruling.

The then-opposition JLP as well as several local human rights groups took issue with the passage of legislation designed to clear the way for Jamaica to establish the CCJ as the country's final court of appeal.

The Privy Council found merit in the arguments of the groups and ruled that its replacement by the CCJ could not be validly incorporated into Jamaica's judicial system except by way of entrenchment in the country's constitution.

The ruling stated that the legislation establishing the CCJ could undermine certain provisions in the Jamaican Constitution that are accorded special protection by being entrenched.

Due to several factors, including a lengthy leadership battle inside the then-governing People's National Party (PNP), and a defeat at the polls in 2007, the party was unable to continue the thrust to complete the transition and the new JLP administration did not have the matter on its list of priorities.

The JLP's stance remained the same until 2009 when Britain's Supreme Court president Lord Nicholas Phillips, in what was perceived as a bombshell announcement, said too many of Britain's top Privy Council judges were being bogged down with cases from Caricom countries.

The comment was viewed by the PNP's AJ Nicholson — one of the architects of Jamaica's move to join the CCJ — and public commentators as an embarrassing blow for Jamaica and a directive for the country to revisit plans to abandon the Privy Council as the final court of appeal for its citizens.

Days later, then prime minister Bruce Golding indicated that he would be reviewing the country's stance on joining the regional court.

While the agreement establishing the CCJ has been signed by most Caricom member states the court only adjudicates cases from Guyana and Barbados.

Despite contributing financially to the annual operations of the court, other member states including Jamaica are yet to make the body the final appellate court for their citizens.

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