Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)

Trinidad and Tobago and the CCJ

By Ian Francis:

There comes a time during the lifespan of any administration when rapid decisions and press commentaries will be made about an important public policy decision headed to the lower House of Parliament. It came as no surprise when Madam Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago announced that the Republic will withdraw from the criminal appellate division of the British Privy Council and hand over this piece of the pie to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

While the prime minister’s announcement is a public policy step in the right direction, it is extremely difficult to rationalize her apparent pro-colonial thinking that the oligarchic Privy Council should still have some say in the final disposal of civil and constitutional matters. Madam Prime Minister, I strongly disagree with you and you should seriously re-think this one.

I strongly submit that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago consider the following: 1) Make a total break with the Privy Council; 2) Establish a good regional example to other CARICOM leaders who have been shamelessly vacillating on the CCJ; and 3) move expeditiously and include all the appellate jurisdictions, as the Republic’s decision is long overdue. Taking a slice and leaving another in the cupboard for later is not good politics for an independent nation. The late prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, would have taken everything away.

Since her intended policy announcement to cut and share a slice of the pie, it was quite refreshing to read the comments of Dr Rowley expressing support for the move. While Dr Rowley’s comments are helpful and will move the process forward, as opposition leader, he has the right to suggest amendments to the proposed bill by reminding the prime minister that the whole cake should be brought home.

Panday’s comments were not surprising as he is stuck in the “never come back mode”, discredited and very irrelevant to Trinidad public affairs. While his former United National Congress (UNC) must be given credit for supporting the creation of the CCJ and providing a headquarters in Port of Spain, it is time for him to move beyond the referendum concept. 

Panday’s desire to ensure citizen participation in making a break with the Privy Council should not be based on a national referendum. It is the responsibility of the national government to design and implement a public information program that would increase awareness and understanding about the CCJ, the need for disengagement from the Privy Council and to minimize ambivalence about the process. Therefore, Panday, in his irrelevant political era, should re-think this referendum strategy.

About one year after assuming the chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister Dr Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis was equivocally clear about the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) membership in the CCJ. If my memory serves me right, Dr Douglas stated that OECS members had found a mechanism for direct membership in the CCJ that would avoid constitutional referendum in most OECS nations. Prime Minister Douglas demitted the rotational chair and nothing more was heard about the “found mechanism”.

Regional ambivalence about the CCJ is a reality. It is embedded amongst distinguished regional legal luminaries, government leaders and of course certain criminal elements who have successfully scored points with the Privy Council. However, at the end of the day, reality, political common sense and breaking the yoke of colonialism are important milestones that regional CARICOM governments must pursue.

Membership in the CCJ is of vital necessity and the region is encumbered with distinguished jurists who can perform as well or even better than some of the British Privy Council cronies.

So, once again, Guyana, Barbados and Belize must be commended for their efforts and contribution to the CCJ. Regional governments have vacillated for too long and treated the CCJ membership with the utterance of dishonesty and tomfoolery to the region’s population.

The CCJ must be recognized and accepted as our final appellate court in all criminal, civil and constitutional matters.

April 28, 2012