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Don’t cloud the issues on the CCJ

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I am forced to return to my topic of last week, the CCJ, and if some readers feel over-burdened, I apologize humbly.Unfortunately, having been enthused both by the appointment of the eminent Hon Justice Saunders to head the Caribbean’s highest legal body, and by the sitting of the CCJ here in his own land, there are those in our midst who seem bent on putting a dampener on the wave of enthusiasm. No sooner were the ceremonies to celebrate Justice Saunders’ elevation officially over, than out came the proverbial “long knives” still dripping with the blood stains from the constitutional referendum of 2009.

It must be made clear that one does not dispute the fact that the appointment of Justice Saunders to head the CCJ is not by itself sufficient reason to advocate for our country’s full accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ. That understood, it must also be made clear that for one to hold on to the outcome of our referendum of November 2009, almost nine years ago, as reason not to become a full member of the CCJ, is a spurious excuse. So much has happened then, including the evolving maturity of the CCJ, that it is important that all those countries still to become full members have been forced to review their positions. Indeed, though some countries have claimed particular circumstances affecting their priorities, no Caribbean country has bluntly refused to access the CCJ in its full jurisdiction.

That ill-fated referendum of 2009 got drowned in an ocean of partisan politics, downright opportunism and deliberate misinformation, (what Donald Trump will call “fake news”). One would have hoped that we would have matured since then and be able to approach the issue in a more dispassionate manner. Justice Saunders himself set out the arguments in favour of the CCJ as clear and simple as possible. Access to justice for all was his key point.

But it is clear that those opposed to full access to the CCJ are not prepared to bat on that wicket. They have brought out the old sticky wicket from 2009, and with their interests in mind, whether political, personal, or influenced by colonial trappings, have begun the orchestration of opposition to the CCJ in its full jurisdiction.

They praise the integrity, competence and brilliance of the CCJ judges, yet balk at endorsing them to dispense justice. Instead, former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell goes the other way, telling us that “the people in the Privy Council are of fantastic substance, you know”. What does this mean? What is left unsaid about the CCJ judges? Do we remember Sir James’ warning in 2009, to the effect that “you can touch the Constitution, but don’t interfere with the Queen or Privy Council?”

The access to justice issue is fundamental to the move in favour of full access to the CCJ. Please read Justice Saunders’ speech at the Kingstown sitting with facts and figures about the cases before the CCJ, and the argument that “some of the cases going up to the Privy Council were thrown out”, cannot hold water. Not many of us could afford the EC$1.5 million that Sir James claims that he spent to access the Privy Council.

The case is also made for another referendum on the issue, a position which seems to be in the process of being imposed on NDP parliamentarians. If the matter is to be put to the people, should it not be honestly presented? In the High Court, before the jury is asked to deliberate, the judge sums up the case and gives directions to the jury to assist in making a decision. If we are to have a referendum, what position will the parliamentary parties adopt? What will their advice to the voters be?

We cannot allow cheap politics to mislead us once again. We must not allow this to become a ULP versus NDP fight, for the substance of the matter will become lost again, as it was in 2009. Imagine Government and Opposition in a row over invitations to a cocktail party, and some Opposition figures making it an issue where access to the CCJ is concerned! Those of principle in both camps must not allow the political divide to cloud the issue, or leave room for the ‘just-come’ political opportunists who have already resorted to bare-faced lying.
We need to have sober assessments, make intelligent appraisals and let the voice of the citizens guide our politicians.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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