Monday, March 21, 2011

What was the process applied in appointing the new Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) chief justice?

By Ian Francis

The recent news from the Caribbean Court of Justice and the CARICOM Secretariat indicating that Sir Dennis Byron has been appointed as chief justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) came to many regional observers as a great surprise and possible disappointment. It was popularly felt that injection of new and progressive blood was necessary for the CCJ, given the enormous amount of work to be undertaken for the future growth and sustainability of the organisation.

The appointment of Byron is not being opposed in this article, as it is felt and known that he is a very competent jurist who has served the region with great distinction. I want to wish Sir Dennis good luck and longevity as he prepares to assume the position of a regional court with only three members. Given Sir Dennis’s legal and administrative skills and experience, there is very little doubt that he will attempt to make a very valuable contribution to the CCJ, focusing on its future growth, which must include an increased membership.

While the selection and appointment of Sir Dennis as chief justice of the CCJ is not being viewed in a negative light, the need to delve further and gain valuable information about the selection and appointment process method applied by the Council of Ambassadors are reasonable questions to ask with the hope that truthful and credible answers are shared.

If the Council of Ambassadors were to adopt the notion of transparency and good governance, then it is reasonable to assume that the average “Joe Blow” in the region will get a much deeper insight into the decision-making process of the Council of Ambassadors. They are obligated to enlighten the region’s population about their decision making process within the CARICOM organisation. In an era of transparency and accountability, the sharing of this information is necessary if the recognised need to enlighten, increase awareness and understanding about CARICOM and its Council of Ambassadors is to be realised.

Prior to the inter-sessional pow wow in Grenada, it was known throughout the region that the Council of Ambassadors had two very critical appointments to make with respect to a new secretary general for the CARICOM Secretariat and a chief justice for the Caribbean Court of Justice. While it is recognized that the Council or Heads have the authority or mandate for such appointments, their authority should not be blindfolded or impaired by ensuring that proper human resource principles and practices are adopted when making such important appointments.

In July 2010, when former Secretary General Carrington and CCJ Chief Justice de la Bastide indicated that they would demit office, it was felt that the broad regional clamour for transparency and accountability in CARICOM might begin with the newly touted of “Council of Ambassadors”. There was great hope and expectation that the Council of Ambassadors would be more progressive, innovative and strategic in their approach with the decision making process in the Secretariat.

Unfortunately, based on internal information gleaned and received from credible sources within the Secretariat, it would appear that the newly touted “Council of Ambassadors” returned to their “old dog tricks” by applying an old decision making model of appointment by consensus..

With all of the above observations, it would appear that the development and implementation of a human resource strategy for the Secretariat has been ignored. There was no written job description for the chief justice position; no posting for the vacant position; no search, interviewing and recruitment committee established. Had these measures being in place, it would have afforded a broad spectrum of applicants from throughout the Caribbean region seeking the position of chief justice.

While at this stage the selection and appointment of a secretary general is unknown, it is sincerely hoped that the Council of Ambassadors will return to the drawing board by recognising and understanding that the process for selecting and appointing a new Secretary General of CARICOM requires a more visionary approach.

I wish Sir Dennis well in his new challenge. There is no doubt that he is indeed a formidable jurist and will do extremely well at the Caribbean Court of Justice. However, if the visionless Council of Ambassadors had seriously applied a transparent selection process, many more like Sir Dennis could have emerged and been considered for this very important position.

Now that the Council of Ambassadors have returned to their governing sanctuaries following their inter-sessional meeting in Grenada, they must once again be reminded of the wise comments made by Prime Minister Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis. He has requested fellow colleagues to be more reflective and analytical when handling important CARICOM matters.

In my view, Douglas’s comments require great attention and should influence our regional leaders with their governance and decision making style. They really need to measure up or face the emerging forces that are clamoring for change and participation. There are already clear warning signs in St Lucia, Grenada and Antigua that are likely to bring about electoral changes. It is very doubtful as to whether the Council of Ambassadors can influence the outcome of the pending electoral changes.

Let’s watch our Council of Ambassadors and their forthcoming report scheduled to be delivered at the next CARICOM meeting scheduled for the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis in July 2011.The region’s population are getting wary of the Council of Ambassadors’ tomfoolery.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and writes frequently on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs., Grenada. He can be reached at