By Oscar Ramjeet:
It is now official.
Belize will abolish appeals to the Privy Council as of next month, June 1.
An Order to this effect was issued by the country's Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, which was advertised in the last issue of Belize Government Gazette and which stated that the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act and the Caribbean Court of Justice Act will come into effect on that date.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will now replace the Privy Council as the highest Court of Appeal for Belize. This will not, however, affect appeals pending before the Privy Council on 31 May 2010.
Belize is the third country to have accepted the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ, which was established on 14 February 2001. The other two are Guyana and Barbados.
The present seat of the CCJ is in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. However, the Agreement establishing the CCJ provides that the Court may sit in the territory of any other Contracting state as circumstances may require.
Moreover, the CCJ has the most modern technical facilities, including audio and video facilities and applications and interlocutory proceedings can be conducted via these media rather than by attorneys journeying to Port of Spain to make their presentations.
A Belize Government press release issued on Tuesday stated, "The removal of the age-old Privy Council as the highest court for Belize and its replacement by the CCJ represents a major landmark in the constitutional and legal history of Belize and has been widely welcomed among the Caribbean Community."
Guyana severed its link with the London based Privy Council since 1970 when the country attained republican status, and established its own court of appeal -- the Guyana Court of Appeal -- as its final court, and as a result litigants were only allowed one appeal in Guyana for a number of years until April 2005 when the CCJ was inaugurated.
Barbados retained the Privy Council until 2005 when it accepted the regional court as the final court.
Although the CCJ was established in 2001, discussions have been going on since 1988. I recall that Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were in the forefront of its establishment, and it is unfortunate that neither of the two countries has up to this date rid itself of the Privy Council. However, both countries tried, but were prevented by a ruling of the said Privy Council that the procedure they adopted was wrong and that they require constitutional amendments.
However, I am optimistic that these two countries, which are considered the big countries in the region will sooner rather than later amend their Constitutions, thus paving way to join the appellate division of the CCJ.
Port of Spain is the headquarters of the CCJ and I feel that the twin island republic will take steps before the end of this year to put the mechanism in place to join the regional court, even if there is a change of government.
As a matter of fact, if Kamla Persad-Bissessar becomes the new prime minister, she being a Caribbean-trained attorney, will be anxious to have the regional court as the final appellate court, and I have no doubt that Patrick Manning will give his support, since he has always been in favour of the move, but the former opposition leader, Basdeo Panday was and still is against it.
Perhaps I should state that, since two thirds of the votes are required in a referendum to change the Constitution, the government must get the support of the opposition before it becomes a reality.
St Lucia, Dominica, and Grenada are also considering joining the CCJ. The Ralph Gonsalves administration in St Vincent and the Grenadines wanted to get on board, but it failed in its referendum to amend the constitution on November 25 last.
However, in my view, it is not that Vincentians do not want to remove the Privy Council as the final court, but the referendum was loaded with a series of constitutional amendments, including more powers to the Prime Minister, and a President to replace the Governor General.
The Antigua and Barbuda government is now engaged in a battle for survival following a recent court decision that declared three seats held by Ministers, including the Prime Minister, vacant on the ground that there were irregularities on election day, and as such the Baldwin Spencer administration is not now in a position to look into the issue.
May 12, 2010