Saturday, June 19, 2010

Will Jamaica soon abolish appeals to the Privy Council?

by Oscar Ramjeet:

It seems as if the Bruce Golding administration in Jamaica has had a change of heart and is now contemplating abolishing appeals to the Privy Council so that the country could join the Appellate Division of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney at law who practices extensively throughout the wider CaribbeanThe reason for my opinion is that the country's Governor General Sir Patrick Allen earlier this week administered the oath of office to Jamaican born Professor Winston Anderson as a judge of the CCJ in Kingston and that Prime Minister Bruce Golding spoke in appreciative, though measured, terms of the court’s performance in its five years.

The move to administer the oath to a CCJ judge outside Port of Spain is unprecedented, but it has been reported that the request came from Professor Anderson in order to facilitate his mother and other relatives to witness the ceremony.

An editorial in the Jamaican Gleaner states, "It seems likely that Mr Golding will at next month's summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders indicate that his government has completed its re-evaluation of Jamaica's absence from the court and is now ready to begin to plan its accession. This is the difficult bit."

The governing JLP two decades ago was in the forefront, along with Trinidad and Tobago, of the establishment of the CCJ.

I recall while I was solicitor general of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the late 1980s, the attorney general of Edward Seaga 's JLP administration, Oswald Harding, was travelling around the region, along with the late Selwyn Richardson, who was the attorney general of the twin island republic, trying to lobby CARICOM leaders to join the court, but the party changed its stand and vehemently opposed the regional court in its role as the court of last resort in criminal and civil matters.

Their concern was mainly the question of the independence of the CCJ, which the JLP continued to advance even after it was clear that the court was insulated against political interference.

The JLP went further when it successfully challenged the constitution at the Privy Council against Jamaica's participation in the CCJ as was then contemplated.

If the JLP is now in favour for Jamaica to join the CCJ as the final appellate court instead of the Privy Council, there should be no problem because the opposition People's National Party is a strong supporter of the CCJ.

The Jamaican government is contributing 27% of the costs to run and administer the CCJ and has not been getting any benefit whatsoever, since it has not yet abolished appeals to the Privy Council.

Belize is the third country to join Guyana and Barbados, and now that Trinidad and Tobago has a new government, legal circles in the twin island republic feel that the new Prime Minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar, a West Indian-trained attorney might be in favour of the CCJ.

She has already indicated that she will fully embrace CARICOM and its members. She is known to be close to CARICOM colleagues and, as a matter of fact, she invited five of them from Barbados and St Kitts to attend Friday's opening of Parliament in Port of Spain.

She recently commented on the poor state of West Indies cricket, and said that every effort should be made to solve the problems between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), since she said that cricket is one of the pillars of Caribbean unity.

St Lucia, Dominica and Grenada are also considering going on board. The Ralph Gonsalves administration in St Vincent and the Grenadines wanted to join also, 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.

It is unfortunate that CARICOM countries take so long or are somewhat reluctant to be a part of the regional system since the CCJ was inaugurated on April 12, 2005.

I was privileged to visit the court while in Port of Spain for the Fifth Summit of the Americans and was impressed with what I have seen -- besides the well equipped libraries, spacious conference room, robing room, etc, I was elated with the courtroom’s appearance, with the most modern telephonic and other fascinating equipment, which is said to be some of the best in the world.

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.

June 19, 2010