Vasciannie says no to Jamaican final court, backs CCJ
JAMAICA'S newly appointed Ambassador to the United States, Professor Stephen Vasciannie has brushed aside notions of Jamaica having its own final appellate court, and at the same time has given a fresh vote of confidence to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) replacing the United Kingdom-based Privy Council as Jamaica's court of last resort.
Vasciannie, who will take up his appointment in the United States capital, Washington, DC, by the start of August, believes that it would be unworkable for Jamaica to have its own final appellate court while the framework for a Caribbean court already exists.
"I am in support of the CCJ being the final appellate court in Jamaica. It's a little known fact, but I was one of the lawyers representing the government of Jamaica before the Privy Council, trying to establish the constitutional validity of the CCJ in Jamaican law. Both at the personal and professional levels, I have sought to promote the CCJ in Jamaican law," Vasciannie told the Jamaica Observer shortly after his appoinment.
"Some have proposed a Jamaican final court. But the case for the CCJ is stronger. First, the CCJ is able to draw from a wider pool of judicial talent and perspectives. Second, the CCJ helps to underline the fact that Caribbean legal systems are similar, and reflect mutually enforceable cultural bonds. Third, the sharing of costs for the court ensures that the highest court reflects the highest standards. And, fourth, the CCJ arrangements have been fully in place for almost a decade now: there is no need to dismantle these arrangements in order to have a Jamaican final court," he stated.
The Rhodes Scholar, former Kingston College head boy and outgoing principal of the Norman Manley Law School at the University of the West Indies said that there were several advantages for the Caribbean region if Jamaica were to drop the Privy Council and go the route of the CCJ.
"The first advantage is psychological. I start from the proposition that the quality of academic study and legal appreciation in the Caribbean matches anywhere else in the world, but some of us hesitate to accept this and we perceive that somehow the Privy Council is better, because, somehow, English systems are better."
He said that by accepting the CCJ, Jamaica will be able to demonstrate the quality of justice in the Caribbean for him, an important symbolic feature that breaks the colonial chain.
"The reason we started having appeals to the Privy Council is because of the colonial link. The colonial link is broken, well why do we continue with the Privy Council?
Secondly, Vasciannie said, on a practical level, "the cost of an appeal to the Privy Council to individual litigants is now prohibitive. It's much cheaper to appeal to the CCJ in the Caribbean, and, in fact, if Jamaica were to become party to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ it is quite plausible that appeals would be heard in Jamaica by the CCJ," he said referencing Shanique Myrie, the young Jamaican woman who claimed she had been assaulted sexually while being processed by immigration officers in Barbados.
"In the Shanique Myrie case, you will recall that the CCJ moved to Barbados to hear the case, so that the cost to a litigant in the Caribbean is likely to be much less if we have our final appeals here," Vasciannie said.
Stressing that the cost to take a case to the CCJ would be less than heading off to the UK, Vasciannie said that such a factor would not result in a cheaper way out in the search for justice and truth.
"It's cheaper for the litigant. If I want to bring a case to the Privy Council now, it will cost me more, just by virtue of distance, than if I take a case to the Caribbean.
"The Caribbean Court of Justice is well funded. There is a Trust Fund and the court is largely being run on the interest of this Trust Fund of US$100 million, and it's always open to the government, if necessary, to top up this Trust Fund. So there is no cheapness in the operations of the court," Vasciannie said, pointing to the Trinidadian home of the CCJ, a modern, high-tech facility matching the best in the world in terms of technology.
He also noted that the original funding for the court -- a US$100-million loan which the Caribbean Development Bank went to the international market and borrowed and which is to be paid back by regional governments, is administered by the CCJ Trust Fund.
"...the Governments are paying back the loan, but the administration is out of the hands of the governments. Why is this important? If the court makes a decision a Government doesn't like, then the Government can't say, 'well, we want back our money'."
"If the Governments fail to pay back the loan, they will fail in respect of an obligation between themselves and the CDB. And if you fail on a CDB obligation, then every loan you have with the CDB falls due. So Governments would think twice about that because it's then bigger than just the court loan. The court has made decisions that I am sure have not suited the Governments, and continues," Vasciannie said.
Jamaica could hold a referendum to determine whether or not it should replace the Privy Council with the CCJ and the final court of appeal.