Monday, March 22, 2010

Delay in joining Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is amazing

By Oscar Ramjeet:

As Belize is about to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final court, one of the seven judges and the Court Registrar visited the country and held discussions with local judges and explained the Rules and Procedure of the regional court with practising lawyers.

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney at law who practices extensively throughout the wider CaribbeanTheir visit coincided with a farewell sitting for Appellate Court Judge, Jamaican-born Boyd Carey.

Justice Adrian Saunders, who was involved in drafting the Rules of the CCJ and Registrar, Dawn Pierre, explained to more than three dozen lawyers at a workshop on Saturday, the rules and procedures to be followed in filing appeals to the regional court.

Belize is the third CARICOM country to get rid of the Privy Council as the final Court, and the first to do so since its establishment, when only two countries, Guyana and Barbados, went on board. It baffles me why the other member states are hesitant and/or reluctant to do so, especially countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, which were in the forefront in the setting up of the Court. However, I have been reliably informed that Dominica is in the process of making preparations to join, but that country is now experiencing parliamentary setback since the opposition party is boycotting parliament, claiming irregularities at the last general elections.

Jamaica as well as St Lucia are also considering joining in the near future. The Patrick Manning administration in Trinidad and Tobago is all in favour of the regional court, but in order for that country to join it must get the support of the Opposition, since it requires two thirds of the vote, and the then opposition leader, Basdeo Panday, was not in favour of the move. However, now that there is a new leader of the opposition UNC, in Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is a West Indian- trained attorney, it is likely there will be a change in that regard.

The CCJ has been established since February 14, 2001, by an agreement signed by a dozen regional governments on February 15, 2003, but the inauguration took place nearly five years ago on April 15, 2005.

The Court has not heard many cases in its Appellate jurisdiction since only two of the 12 countries have accepted the CCJ as the final appellate court, and this is very unfortunate since the Port of Spain based Court has the best court facilities on the planet. I was privileged to visiting the Court and was impressed with what I have seen - besides the well equipped libraries, spacious conference room, robing room etc. I was elated with the court room appearance, with the most modern telephonic and fascinating equipment. The facilities include: A document Reader/Visual Presenter: Ability to use laptop computers, DVF/VCR: Audio/Video Digital Recording (microphones situated throughout the courtroom) ; wireless internet access, and audio/video transcripts.

International jurists who have visited the CCJ and read its judgments generally have a high opinion of the court. One of them, Francis Jacobs, a Privy Councillor and former Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, said that the CCJ is of a high calibre and would be able to take account of local values and develop a modern Caribbean jurisprudence in an international context. He also took a swipe at some Caribbean leaders when he said, "It is regrettable that political difficulties have obstructed acceptance of its Appellate jurisdiction and that the outdated jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council survives for many of those states.

One of the most respected Caribbean jurists, Dominican born Telford Georges, said before his death that he regarded it as a "compromise of sovereignty" for us to remain wedded "to a court which is part of the former colonial hierarchy, a court in the appointment of whose members we have absolutely no say."

I sincerely hope that steps will soon be taken by those countries that have not yet joined will do so as soon as possible.

March 22, 2010