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Talk, talk and more talk

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Tue Apr 23, 2013

Editor: Grenadian born law professor Simeon Mc Intosh went to his grave a few weeks ago, without seeing his country and nine other CARICOM states join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court. Mc Intosh spent the last five years of his life travelling around the region rallying support for the regional court, but all was in vain.{{more}}

Last week, April 16, was eight long years since the CCJ was inaugurated at the Queen’s Hall in Port of Spain, and so far only three countries — Guyana, Barbados and Belize — have accepted the CCJ as the final appellate court. In fact, the birth of the CCJ came after a long arduous gestation. In March 1970, the Organisation of Commonwealth Bar Associations (OCBA) first raised the issue of the need to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy as the court of last resort for the Commonwealth Caribbean by a regional court of appeal. A month later, at the VI Commonwealth Caribbean Heads of Government, the heads agreed to take action on relinquishing the Privy Council and mandated a committee of CARICOM attorneys general to further explore the question of the establishment of what was then being called a Caribbean Court of Appeal.

This was done decades ago, but most governments could not make up their minds, giving different reasons and when a few finally agreed, they were voted out of office for other reasons and the new administration restarted the process. Referenda is necessary in few countries, but it seems that the sitting governments are afraid to go through that process because they might not succeed. St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was bold enough to call a referendum, but it was defeated. However, my view is it is not that the Vincentians do not want to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ, but the referendum was padded with other issues such as removing the Queen as the Sovereign, hence the reason why a little more than 51.1 per cent of the electorate voted NO.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, a West Indian trained lawyer, said more than a year ago that she would go halfway, i.e. to abolish appeals to the Privy Council only in criminal cases and civil appeals should continue to go to London. This is not a good move, since most of the appeals are from the civil courts and cost a fortune. In any event, no steps have so far been taken by her administration to abolish criminal appeals to the Privy Council. I am very surprised and disappointed about this, since Basdeo Panday, whom Prasad Bissessar replaced as leader of the UNC, was the Prime Minister who advocated for Port of Spain to be the headquarters of the Court.

It is back in forth in Jamaica. Some time ago there were plans to set up the final appellate court in Jamaica, but that idea was apparently shelved and there were plans for removing the Queen as the Sovereign Head of State and accepting the CCJ as the final court to coincide with the 50th anniversary of independence, but eight months have passed since the reggae country celebrated its golden anniversary, but it seems as if the idea was either placed on the back burner or totally abandoned.

This is very unfortunate, since Jamaica is contributing 27 per cent of the costs to run and administer the court. There were complaints in some quarters that there was no Jamaican judge in the court, but a distinguished professor Charles Anderson of Kingston was appointed nearly three years ago to the panel.

The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) had taken a decision to arrange referenda simultaneously in each state, but nothing has been heard since. There again is talk, talk and more talk.

Meanwhile, some Caribbean leaders and commentators have commented adversely on the slow pace in which decisions are being taken by the Caribbean Community, some contending that the regional body is dying slowly.

Oscar Ramjeet

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