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Justice Saunders hurt by course of constitution debate

Justice Saunders hurt by course of constitution debate

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The cause of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is being hurt by the course taken by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ constitution debate.{{more}}

In fact, according to CCJ Justice Adrian Saunders, the tone of the debate on the institution becoming the final court of appeal for all English-Speaking Caribbean countries could set back the process significantly.

Speaking at a lecture on referenda, hosted by the local chapter of Partners of the Americas, Saunders said it was a shame that “the CCJ versus the Privy Council” had become a topical issue for persons debating the proposed constitution.

“The question of the CCJ, which has been caught up this referendum, and which, if the referendum fails will be set back for who knows when, is a matter that I feel very, very deeply and strongly about,” Saunders said last Thursday night at the UWI Open Campus in Kingstown.

The St. Vincent-born justice, who has been on the CCJ since its inauguration on April 16, 2005, said it was a sad situation when persons in the region believe it is best to continue with the Privy Council.

“That is something which was necessary when we didn’t have our own court; when we didn’t have resources to establish our own,” he added.

“But since 2005 we’ve done that, and here we are using up 40 per cent of their time because we claim it is free. So we are freeloaders using up their time when we are paying for a court in the region whose quality, whose calibre is on a par with courts of a similar nature, including the Privy Council.”

Saunders indicated that he had spoken to Lord Phillips of the British Supreme Court, who last week in the media lamented the fact that the Privy Council is still hearing appeals from independent countries.

The powers that be in the United Kingdom, Saunders said, may one day do one of three things: they will send their “B” team to deal with appeals from the region, send only three judges to hear appeals, or as a last resort, they will kick the Caribbean territories out.

“In my mind, for us in 2009 to be rejecting our own court that we have established in favour of burdening British people and creating for them an intolerable burden; because their appeals have to be set back to 18 months or two years …”

To date only two countries, Guyana and Barbados, have signed on to the CCJ, while seven others, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, continue to use the Privy Council as their final court of appeal.

Saunders defended the integrity of his institution, noting that president of the CCJ, Justice Michael De La Bastide, is also a member of the Privy Council, and that one of the judges, soon to retire, may be appointed to the International Criminal Court.

He also revealed at last Thursday’s lecture that Belize has agreed to join the CCJ.

Saunders said that he believes it is time that the countries in the region take their laws into their own hands.

“We have our own executive. We have our own parliament. Nobody is asking Gordon Browne to stay up there and be the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Nobody is asking parliament in the United Kingdom to stay up there and to pass laws in and for St. Vincent, [but] we want British judges to stay up there and to interpret our laws.” (JJ)

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