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Vincentian jurist now Caribbean Court of Justice head cornerstone

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On Friday of next week, July 20, a ceremonial sitting of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will be held at the High Court of

this country to mark the elevation of the Hon. Mr Justice Adrian Saunders to the office of president of the CCJ. This follows the swearing-in of Justice Saunders at a special ceremony immediately preceding the official opening of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in Jamaica last week.
The appointment of Justice Saunders, a son of our soil, to this pivotal position is one in which all Vincentians should take immense pride.

Strangely enough, it has not grabbed the headlines and attracted the attention that it should. Perhaps it had to do somewhat with the Carnival activities; perhaps it has bearing on how the story was carried via our local media; or perhaps it is connected with the failure of Justice Saunders’ own country to fully accede to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction.

That failure, ending in defeat in the 2009 referendum on the proposed new Constitution which included full access to the CCJ, has left the ULP administration strangely being very timid to try again to gain that full membership of the CCJ. It may well be that its pride wounded by its only defeat at the polls since coming to office in 2001, there is residual fear of another such attempt. Even the normally bold PM Gonsalves could only meekly indicate at Justice Saunders’ swearing-in, that perhaps, he “may try” again.

However significant these matters may be, they are not sufficient reason for all Vincentians not to exhibit pride in the accomplishments of Justice Saunders. His is one example which must be held up for all our people, and our children, and youths in particular, to look up to, cherish and revere. Personally, I take great pride in Justice Saunders’ elevation to the highest post in Caribbean jurisprudence and fully associate myself with all the plaudits extended to him.

In addition to his proven intelligence, competence, dedication and legal qualifications, there are two human qualities which he possesses which are fundamentally important for all young Vincentians. These are his humility and honesty, hallmarks of his outstanding career. When I look back at his journey in public life, I cannot feel but slightly amused at how his early detractors must now feel.

Justice Saunders comes with an impressive track record of service to our country, not just in the legal field. He played a leading role in building the youth movement, not just in SVG, but the rest of the Caribbean as well.

Indeed, when he suffered the personal tragedy of the loss of his beloved brother Ronnie in 1978, Adrian was in Cuba for the World Festival of Youths and Students. He was one of the drivers of the growth of the local table-tennis association, along with another of my comrades, Donnie Defreitas.

I can share with readers another little-known, but critical contribution of Justice Saunders. He it was, who first spotted the dangers of the repressive legislation drafted by the Labour Party government in 1981, infamously known as the “Dread Bills” and provided invaluable guidance to the civil society movement, the National Committee for the Defence of Democracy, which led the mass movement to “kill the bills”.

Yet many Vincentians did not fully appreciate him then. His slight physical appearance and gentle, clear voice, did not fit in with their image of a “big lawyer”, the stereotype being of some physically imposing character with a booming voice. Nor did his honesty and humility quite “full the eyes”, as we say in local parlance. Many were the disparaging comments that he had to tolerate, especially when he did not join the status quo, but aligned himself politically with the progressive, left movement in the country, YULIMO and later the UPM. He was even rejected at the polls.

Today, the cream has emerged at the top. The proverbial “stone the builder refused” has become “the Head Cornerstone” of the Caribbean judicial system, the standard bearer of our quest to free our le­gal system of its colonial trappings, a process which many, politician and lawyer alike, are reluctant to do, for all sorts of selfish reasons.

We must all hail Justice Saunders, but more so, what better way to show our appreciation but to insist that our Parliament, Government and Opposition alike, take the correct steps are to ensure that the land of his birth becomes a full member of the CCJ!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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