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British Law Lords want an end to Privy Council free ride

British Law Lords want an end to Privy Council free ride

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A slap in the face for some Vincentians.

This is how Prime Minister Dr.Ralph Gonsalves views recent remarks made by Lord Phillips (in photo above), president of Britain’s new Supreme Court.{{more}}

In an article published in the Financial Times on Sunday, September 20th, 2009, Phillips expressed that he and fellow senior judges spent a disproportionate amount of time hearing legal appeals from independent Commonwealth countries.

The Privy Council has been serving the region since 1833.

Lord Phillips noted that he could not rationalise why a panel of five of Britain’s most senior judges needed to hear Privy Council cases, which have ranged from “Jamaican death row appeals to fights over press freedom in Bermuda”. He added that “in an ideal world”, former Commonwealth countries would stop using the privy Council and set up their own final courts of appeal instead.

For Gonsalves, this latest development in the United Kingdom couldn’t have had better timing. He is of the view it reinforces one of the main pitches used by the ‘Yes Campaign’ in the run-up to the referendum to alter the Constitution of St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

The referendum will be held on November 25, 2009.

The proposed Constitution has a provision to abolish the Privy Council as St.Vincent and the Grenadines final court of appeal, and to replace it with the Caribbean Court of Justice.

An elated Gonsalves, at a press conference held at Cabinet Room on Wednesday, September 23, said changes are taking place in the British Judiciary. Hence, naturally, changes will have to take place in Caribbean islands that use the Privy Council as their final court.

As early as 2001, St.Vincent and the Grenadines signed on to the intergovernmental agreement for the CCJ and paid a subscription of US$2.5 million.

“On this issue, where we have essentially been given a notice to quit colonial premises, it has become a terrible embarrassment. Well, not for us, not for Ralph Gonsalves, not for the vast majority of Vincentians. We take we name out of people mouth because we are going to a referendum saying let us not loiter one moment longer than is necessary on colonial premises,” said Gonsalves.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, when contacted, said he has indicated his position on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the Privy Council a long time ago.

He said he would really like to see something done about the lower court before getting to the stage where the issue of the CCJ and the Privy Council are dealt with.

“I maintain that very few of our citizens ever get to the Privy Council,” said Eustace, while adding that he is very concerned about the matter.

“…We are at a stage now, and there is no doubt of it, people do not have a lot of confidence in our legal system anymore and the fact that the Caribbean Court of Justice had to put in special conditions to try and protect themselves from political interference tells us something,” said Eustace.

“So my concern has to do with what mechanism we put in place to deal with our lower courts from the magistracy up. In principle, I don’t have anything against the change to the Caribbean Court of Justice. That has always been my position,” said Eustace.

When asked about the differing position that former prime minister Sir James Mitchell holds on the matter, Eustace responded: “That is Sir James’ position and I respect his position, but we have our position that we have set out in our presentation at the Committee of the Whole House…Let me see what you are going to do with the lower courts, because in principle I don’t have anything against the CCJ.

Last week in an exclusive interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Sir James warned about a move by this country from the British Privy Council to the CCJ.

When contacted at press time for a response, Sir James, who served as this country’s prime minister for 17 years said: “I have not heard the Prime Minister’s statements and I am not in a position to comment. I don’t listen to what he has to say.”

Earlier in Wednesday’s press conference Gonsalves charged that Sir James “loves things British more than the British,” adding, “I am not getting into comedy hour”.

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