Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) - are we ready?

Law and Politics: The CSME and the CCJ - are we ready?
By Lloyd Noel:

Now that we have just celebrated our thirty-seventh anniversary of independence, from the colonial rule of England way back in 1974 – but having maintained our association and membership of the British Commonwealth of nations over all those years – we in the tri-Island State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique seem to be on the verge of severing all those ties that assisted us in becoming who we are, and achieving what we have by reason of that association.

Lloyd Noel is a former Attorney General of Grenada, prominent attorney at law and political commentatorAnd as we are about to travel down that road, to some unknown destination in the new world order, it may be useful to look back from whence we came, to reflect on where exactly we are at this time, and what in fact and in reality we have thus far achieved.

Of course, I must admit up front that I have been very, very fortunate, as far as my personal achievements have been over the years from those colonial days – and some may be tempted to suggest that it is because of my good fortunes during my sojourn in England that I still harbour the fond memories and gratitude of the country and people and their customs.

But I will readily respond to that suggestion by making bold to say, without fear of any contradiction, that the great majority of those thousands of West Indians who travelled to England in those colonial days, to work and start a new life, they too still cherish the opportunities and achievements.

It was while thousands of us were already in the Mother Country in Great Britain, when the first attempt at the unified West Indies came on stream with the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 – but it only lasted for four years (1958-1962), when Jamaica decided to secede, by formally withdrawing from the Federation; and the late P.M. of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, created new maths by announcing that, because there were ten states in the Federation and Jamaica was withdrawing, then one from ten leaves nought, so Trinidad and Tobago was also moving out, and that was the end.

And it was from then that the rush to political independence by the Big Four started; Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana all went on to break their colonial ties with England, although thousands of their nationals were very firmly rooted in the mother country and doing very well for themselves.

From then on the same Big Four states tried to get the same West Indian islands to form an economic union, and the Caribbean Community or CARICOM is what remains of that effort.

Over the years, of course, all the smaller islands went on to achieve their independence – except Montserrat, the BVI and Anguilla -- and that rush to statehood began with Grenada in February, 1974.

Needless to repeat the happenings since then, but now we have the “CARICOM Single Market and Economy” (CSME), and included therein is the “Caribbean Court of Justice” (CCJ), which is the body responsible for the due administration of the Single Market; but more importantly any of the independent states can decide to adopt the CCJ as its final court of appeal, for both civil and criminal and constitutional matters, and by so doing abolish appeals to the Privy Council final court of appeal in England that the West Indies have always been accustomed to, both as colonies and independent states since 1962.

The strange thing about the membership of the CCJ is that, while all the independent states signed on the CSME, only Barbados and Guyana started off using the CCJ as their final court of appeal, and late last year, Belize adopted the court and abolished the Privy Council.

Trinidad and Tobago, where the court has its headquarters, has not adopted it, and the newly elected government that came into office last year are thinking of referring the option to the people for a decision.

And even the Jamaica government is now saying that it is considering establishing its own final appeal court.

Against that state of disunity and disorganisation, our own government is now saying that it will soon be adopting the CCJ as our final court of appeal, to replace the Privy Council in England.

Maybe I missed it whenever it was said, but I have never heard any statement from this government about the preference of the CCJ over the Privy Council, and neither has any opportunity been given to Grenadians to express their opinions or views on the matter. And there can be no doubt whatsoever, that this very fundamental decision, after all those years of the very excellent services we have received from the judges of the highest quality and experience, our people should have been given the opportunity to have their say.

And in the absence of that very basic and highly principled opportunity, I cannot support the government’s decision to go it alone. I hope it is not regretted before too long.

What is also of some importance to the whole concept of regional unity, at the lower level of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in particular, is that we have been sharing a common court system, from our associated statehood days since 1967, and we continue to do so after independence right up to the Privy Council.

I have not heard of the same unified position with the other five states on this matter – but maybe I missed it, while they all were busy promoting the latest unitary animal in the recently publicised “OECS Economic Union” – for the free movement of people and capital throughout the six independent states, with the hope that the three remaining colonies of England will sooner or later get the UK’s go-ahead to join the economic union.

To take the confused situation of so many so-called unity groups in our region – all serving the same little population at different levels -- should a company in St Lucia open a business entity in Grenada, and that business has a court case in the Grenada court, it can go to the OECS Court of Appeal and then to the CCJ final court of appeal in Trinidad.

And if the same company has a case in St Lucia, it can go to the OECS Court of Appeal and then must go to the Privy Council in London for a final decision. It would be interesting if the legal issue is similar in both OECS Court of Appeal but the final decisions at the CCJ and the Privy Council differ.

To think that we in these Caribbean Isles have been playing around with this concept of unity for so many years, and for one reason or another the governments cannot get it right -- that must have some bearing on the fact that the politicians who come and go in the various islands all seem to take the position that they alone have all the answers so they never put it to their people to say yea or nay.

We saw what happened in St Vincent, when the government there put the proposed amended constitution to the people and they rejected it – yet in general elections thereafter the same people voted the same government back into power for a third term.

And that is why I agree with the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, to put the question of whether or not they opt for the CCJ in place of the Privy Council to the people for a decision.

I saw the news item last week that the NDC government plans to hold its party General Council meeting next month, on the 13th March at the Boca Secondary School.

The same meeting was postponed last November, around the time there was the breakdown in unity over the re-shuffle of those three ministers, and one minister actually resigned from Cabinet.

The party general secretary is the minister of tourism, Peter David, and he was removed from foreign affairs back to tourism. He has since been saying that he is rebuilding the party machinery, but the 13th March is a date that is synonymous with the PRG of 1979, not the NDC of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, on which bandwagon he entered Parliament.

So the questions beg themselves – was the choice of that date a wise decision in the circumstances?

And will it help to rebuild the NDC Party, and at the same time keep the thousands who voted for NDC loyal enough to so vote the next time?

I was chatting with an ex-PRA of the Revolution days, the day after I saw the news item, and he too felt the date of 13th March was much too sensitive at this time – bearing in mind all the events that have taken place.

Time alone will tell, in the months and years ahead.

But like all the issues mentioned above that will affect us as a people in the times ahead, the even bigger question presents itself: are we ready for the possible changes that can result therefrom?

February 22, 2011