BIPARTISAN embrace of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Jamaica has helped to increase public acceptance across the region for the tribunal, according to CCJ President Sir Dennis Byron.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, Sir Dennis — who took office last September — acknowledged that he was seeing more public acceptance of the court now throughout the region.
"I must say that I think the public position of Jamaica has helped enormously," said Sir Dennis, who was in Jamaica to deliver the annual Norman Manley Lecture at the University of the West Indies.
"I had always felt that Jamaica's leadership was critical in this area, and now that the Caribbean public understands that both the Government and Opposition parties support accession to the court, it has had a tremendous impact on the rest of the Caribbean," he said.
Ever since it was first proposed, the CCJ has been mired in controversy over its proposed realm of replacing the Judicial Committee of the United Kingdom Privy Council, which serves as the final appeal court for many Caribbean countries.
While accepting the CCJ's jurisdiction in interpreting the treaty governing the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, critics of its appellate jurisdiction had raised objections ranging from the quality of jurisprudence in the Caribbean, to the inadequacies of the justice system in the region, to fear that the court will be under-funded and the possibility of political interference.
The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which for a long time was opposed to the court, had insisted that any decision to have Jamaica sign on to its appellate jurisdiction must be made via a referendum.
However, in 2005, after the UK Privy Council delivered a blow to the then PJ Patterson Administration by ruling that the Government's approach to establishing the CCJ was unconstitutional, the JLP, while praising the ruling, appeared to soften its position.
"We are prepared to enter into discussions with the Government on an approach to the question of a final court to replace the Privy Council," said the JLP's then putative leader Bruce Golding.
"We'd be prepared to enter into those discussions to establish such a court in a manner that ensures that the rights of the Jamaican people are not only preserved but enhanced, that the quality of jurisprudence is not inferior to what is now available to us from the Privy Council and in a manner that would ensure that our final court is completely insulated from political influence, including indirect political influence," he added.
Since then, the JLP has moved closer to embracing the court, stating in January this year that it has no major issue with the Government's plan to end Jamaica's relationship with the Privy Council.
So far, only Barbados, Guyana and Belize have acceded to the CCJ's appellate jurisdiction.
Last week, Sir Dennis said that the countries making up the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States have announced that they are coming on board as soon as possible.
"What has happened is that in the Eastern Caribbean the constitutional requirements differ from country to country," he explained.
"There are two countries which require referendum — Grenada and Antigua. St Kitts and Nevis is clear cut, they can do it without a referendum by an appropriate majority in Parliament, but with the consent of the British Government. In St Lucia and St Vincent the constitutional provisions are similar to those in St Kitts and Dominica, but there is a technical issue that apparently needs a judicial resolution, and it is my understanding that the Government of St Lucia intends to raise that matter before the appeal court of the eastern Caribbean," he added.