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Caribbean Court of Justice explains who can be sued under its original jurisdiction


Fri Apr 19, 2013

by Kristina Wallace-Whitfield, Eugene Dupuch Law School
Doreen Johnson, an employee of the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD), was made redundant after seventeen years of service. Johnson then applied under the original jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice for permission to sue CARICAD. Under the CCJ’s original jurisdiction, the Court hears disputes arising from provisions of the CARICOM Treaty. Johnson’s allegations against CARICAD included abuse of power, wrongful dismissal, violation of the labour laws of Barbados, breach of contract, breach of the Constitution of Barbados and discrimination on the ground of nationality.{{more}}

Before the CCJ could hear her claim, two issues had to be addressed. It was clear to all that CARICOM could be sued. But the first issue to be decided here was whether CARICAD as an institution of CARICOM could be sued before the CCJ.

The second preliminary issue was which, if any, of the allegations the Court had power to determine.

The CCJ acknowledged that CARICAD is an Institution of CARICOM, but drew a distinction between Institutions and Organs of CARICOM. The distinction was found by looking at the wording of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which does not provide that the Institutions should be an “integral part of the Community”.

The Court went on to say that “Institutions of the Community do not enjoy the same degree of identification with the Community as do the Organs and Bodies. The policies and work of the Community are effected through the Organs and Bodies of the Community. The Organs and Bodies reflect the will of the Community. The Institutions and Associate Institutions on the other hand are merely entities that have some connection with the Community [and] have no power actual or ostensible to bind or represent the Community.”

Therefore, the Court concluded that since CARICAD was an Institution, and not an Organ, of CARICOM it followed that CARICAD could not be sued before the CCJ. The Court noted that even if CARICAD was an Organ, then it is CARICOM that should be made the Defendant. In other words, where an Organ of CARICOM does something which could be legally wrong, then a case must be brought against CARICOM itself and not the Organ.

As the answer to the first preliminary issue was negative, the Court did not deeply discuss the second issue, except to stress that cases can only be heard under its original jurisdiction where they allege a breach of the CARICOM Treaty; and most of Ms Johnson’s allegations did not do so.

This summary is intended to assist the Caribbean public in learning more about the work of the CCJ. It is not a formal document of the Court. The judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document and may be found at