Mon | Mar 18, 2019

CCJ revival! - Regional judicial body crafts plan to make court more appealing

Published:Thursday | March 14, 2019 | 12:05 AM

Unfazed by the chorus of voices from some jurisdictions across the Caribbean who have rejected, in referenda, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final appellate court while choosing to remain with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, president of the regional judicial body Justice Adrian Saunders says that a strategic plan is being crafted to win over those who remain sceptical about the court’s operations and transparency.

In a wide-ranging lecture held at the University of Technology in St Andrew earlier this week, Justice Saunders divulged that the court was taking steps to address a number of issues that have prevented it from being accepted and seen in a positive light among the masses across the region.

In November 2018, both Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda voted against accepting the United Kingdom-based Privy Council as their final court. On November 6, 2018, Grenadians said “No” in a referendum on whether to embrace the CCJ or stay with the Privy Council. At the same time, the people of Antigua and Barbuda also made it clear in a referendum that they wished to stay with the Privy Council.

“Why is it that fate is cruel? These are two states whose governments are extremely enthusiastic about signing on to the appellate jurisdiction, and these are not governments that have bare majorities. In Grenada, the government has won all the seats. In Antigua and Barbuda, the government won all the seats except one. It’s just a cruel fate of nature why these countries absolutely need a referendum. We thought that the primary reason was the insufficient awareness about the operations of the court and about the relationship between the court and the rest of the justice sector which it interfaces with on a daily basis,” the CCJ president said.

Justice Saunders reasoned that although some governments were excited over the CCJ, the people themselves have not harboured similar sentiments. This he blamed on the court’s communications strategy.

Justice Saunders argued that the CCJ was feeling the blow-back of a lack of confidence in the ability of local courts “and a feeling that if we are not very happy with the way in which justice is being delivered on the local stage, then why are we going to add on top of that another local-Caribbean layer?”.

However, he said that it was a wrong characterisation of the CCJ.

Justice Saunders said he was yet to hear a good reason for the retention of the Privy Council as the final court for Caribbean countries, rejecting the arguments that local judges were too close to power wielders and that politicians could exit the court at any time, creating a constitutional crisis.

“Jamaica can build into its own constitutional entrenchment mechanisms to cater for that issue, but I don’t think it’s a sufficient basis upon which to say that a Caribbean Court of Justice that has been carefully constructed in a way that removes it from political interference, that removes it from financial influence, is less independent over whose judges you have no control,” he said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has maintained that he would allow Jamaicans to decide in a referendum whether they want the CCJ to replace the Privy Council as the country’s final court.

Currently, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Guyana are the only Caribbean Community states that have made the CCJ their final appellate court.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com