Bar Association, Justice Panton and PNP in ugly fight over spurned CCJ
Justice Seymour Panton

President of the Jamaican Bar Association (JAMBAR), Alexander Williams has told former Appeal Court President Justice Seymour Panton he's wrong that political affiliations of persons within the JAMBAR ranks accounts for its reticence in the debate on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) becoming Jamaica's final appeal court.

Williams, a former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) senator, insisted the "crescendo of views" surrounding the CCJ becoming Jamaica's final appellate court had sounded louder since his presidency, and the association intended to "announce a position very shortly on that signal matter".

Noting that he admired Justice Panton for his "candour and his bluntness", Williams said: "I hope he forgives me for saying this, that political affiliation, wherever it may reside, will not colour the positions taken by the Jamaican Bar Association."

According to Williams, JAMBAR had heard the calls but there was a process that the association needed to adhere to before coming to a position on the issue.

Alexander Williams, president of the Jamaican Bar Association

"Certainly, my ears are not deaf, the Bar Association is not deaf, and this is one of the central issues that needs to be grappled with in a very timely, timely way," he stated.

In the meantime, Williams said in his personal view there were several issues which should be settled in a final Caribbean way. One had to do with the issue of adverse possession which has gone through "a tortured analysis" by the current final court.

"There are other issues, judge-made law that need to be settled in a way in which — and I know I am going to get in trouble for this — we can fulfil the Independence experiment which began 60 years ago," the JAMBAR president said.

Justice Panton, speaking during a special sitting of the Appeal Court to mark its 60th anniversary on Friday, said: "I wish that in short order the Bar Associations will insist that there is an accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice. The Bar has been too silent on this matter. I don't know if it's because some members of the Bar are in politics, but they should not allow political views to influence their thinking in a matter of this nature.

"I assure everybody that I have no intention of being silent on this matter. As long as time is with me, I shall speak the Privy Council out of existence and bring the Caribbean Court of Justice into Jamaica's life," declared Justice Panton.

The former appeal court judge, earlier in his remarks, had expressed shock that lawyers trained by Jamaican judges are the same ones saying they have no confidence in a final Caribbean Court of Appeal.

"I wish the members of the Bar to remember — and if they do not remember, if they have not researched and have not come up on this, they ought to be told — that there was a time when there was… forcible opposition to the idea of training lawyers in Jamaica and in the Caribbean; it was felt that you had to go to England. That is why people like me ended up in England doing the Bar," Justice Panton revealed.

"I want lawyers to remember, to constantly bear in mind that much of the learning as lawyers came from and is still coming from serving judges of the region. I say they need to remember that because I am shocked when I hear lawyers saying that they have no confidence in the final court of appeal being in the Caribbean and Jamaica acceding to such a court. How can they say something of that nature when they are being trained by the same judges?" Justice Panton questioned.

And the Opposition People's National Party, in a statement issued late Friday evening, took Justice Panton to task for allocating "equal blame to the parliamentary divide for the lack of progress" in Jamaica making the CCJ its final court.

"To ensure the statement is a fair comment, the Hon Mr Panton should be reminded that in October 2015 the then minister of justice, who is now Leader of the Opposition [Mark Golding], presented bills entitled 'The Constitution (Amendment) Caribbean Court of Justice Act 2015', 'The Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Act 2015', and 'The Caribbean Court of Justice Act 2015' to Parliament," the PNP said.

"The objective of the three bills was to replace the colonial institution in England with a final appellate court of our own, the Caribbean Court of Justice, an itinerant court based in Trinidad and Tobago to which Jamaica contributed US$27 million towards its establishment.

"Had the then PNP Government been able to secure the vote of even a single Opposition senator, the situation would have been different today," the statement said further.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

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