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The Judicial System

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Part 8

After much consideration of the Judicial system in the Constitution, the Constitutional Review Commission has said that St Vincent and the Grenadines cannot unilaterally alter any significant aspect of its judicial system because it is shared with other member states of the OECS.

However, the commission has made four recommendations.

Firstly, the commission has recommended that St Vincent and the Grenadines subscribe to the Caribbean Court of Justice rather than the Privy Council.{{more}}

Secondly, the commission recommended that “determined effort should be made to incorporate into the Constitution as many of the provisions of the Court Order as may be practicable”.

The “Court Order” is the “Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Order 1967” which is a piece of legislation handed down at Independence from Britain through the “United Kingdom Statutory Instrument 1967 No 223”.

The Constitution itself does not give insight into the judicial system but the First Schedule and Second Schedule refer to the system.

Reference is also made to the “Court Order” which provides the details.

Against this background, the commission recommended writing into the Constitution as much of the Court Order as possible.

Thirdly, there was a recommendation that the salaries of the judiciary should no longer be set by the OECS Heads of Government. The reason given was to “safeguard the sacred democratic principle of the independence of the judiciary. The power to both determine salaries as well as whether Judges could serve beyond retirement age should be exercised by an independent, non-political sub-regional body established by the OECS Heads of Government, said the commission.

Fifthly, a recommendation to bring the Family Court and the Magistracy under constitutional protection.

“The Magistracy and the Family Court currently exist wholly by ordinary legislation. We recommend that the institutions of the Magistracy and the Family Court should be accorded a measure of constitutional protection by inserting into the Constitution appropriate provisions to protect the independence of those institutions and to lessen their vulnerability to extra-judicial pressures,” the review commission stated.

And finally, the commission has asked for a “most generous interpretation” of the phrase “relevant interest”. Section 96 creates a special jurisdiction in the High Court to hear and grant relief on an application by any person who has “a relevant interest”, if it is alleged that any provision of the Constitution other than the Fundamental Rights provisions has been, or is being contravened. So as to avoid an abuse of the access given by this section, there is provision that this jurisdiction may be invoked only if the contravention of the Constitution that is alleged is such as “to affect his interests”.

However, the commission pointed out that the term “relevant interest” had caused problems for applicants under this provision in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court citing Gordon vs The Attorney General of St Lucia. In a subsequent ruling the British Privy Council appeared to have extended the scope of the remedy to all citizens affected by the breach of a constitutional provision which affect their interests but left it to the discretion of the courts to see that absurd claims were not brought.

The commission has asked that the courts provide a “most generous interpretation” of the phrase.

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