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Is there need for another CCJ judge?

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Fri, Jan 23, 2015

Editor: Although only three countries have abolished appeals to the Privy Council, the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) has appointed a judge to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace Justice Desiree Bernard, who went into retirement on March 1 last year. One would have thought that since the workload is not as much as was expected, the regional court would have continued to function until more countries joined the Appellate Division of the CCJ.{{more}}

However, the CCJ, in its original jurisdiction, interprets and applies the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established the Caribbean Community CARICOM) and is an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation of the Treaty. I have been informed that despite the fact that most countries have not yet fully on board, the judges are still busy dealing with matters in its original jurisdiction.

It is very disappointing that only Guyana, Barbados, and Belize have severed ties with the London based Privy Council, and Dominica’s Parliament approved a bill in July 2014 to make the CCJ the final court. I wonder what is the delay in that country joining, when the British government gave the green light a year ago for that OECS country to sever ties with the London based Privy Council?

The CCJ was established in 2001 and it is very unfortunate that the other Caricom countries have not yet severed the apron string from the Privy Council, despite the fact that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica gained political independence from Britain in 1962, more than 52 years ago. In fact those two countries were in the forefront in establishing the regional court. They are now singing a different tune. Although Jamaica is contributing the most financially, it seems no longer interested, and the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister had intimated that she was considering abolishing criminal appeals to the Privy Council, but recently disclosed that she will seek a mandate from the electorate by way of referendum.

St Lucia’s Prime Minister said his country will join, but no concrete step has been taken to do so in this regard. A referendum seeking a mandate from the electorate in St Vincent and the Grenadines to join failed five years ago, because, in my view, it was loaded with other changes to the Constitution, including the removal of the Queen as Head of State.

Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Kitts/Nevis indicated that they were interested, but they are still to put the machinery in motion.

The new judge named is Justice Maureen Rajnauth Lee, an Appellate Court judge of her homeland, Trinidad and Tobago, who is a brilliant jurist and copped first class honours when she gained her LLB degree – a prerequisite to law school. Incidentally she was a colleague of mine at the Hugh Wooding Law School. She takes up her appointment in April this year. She will join six other judges, including President Sir Denis Byron.

Oscar Ramjeet

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