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Editorial: Rewind CCJ debate

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Last week in Parliament, at the start of the debate on proposed amendments to Jamaica's Constitution to make the Caribbean Court Justice (CCJ) this country's court of last resort, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller offered a compelling argument for the move. It is unimpeachable that the average Jamaican has no effective access to the existing final court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is based in London.

But on this matter, it is insufficient to be right. For while the Privy Council, in a 2004 ruling, conceded that it can be removed as Jamaica's final court by votes of simple majorities in both chambers of Parliament, it held that it could not be replaced by another court unless that court was, like the Court of Appeal, entrenched in the Constitution.

In the other words, either Jamaica is left with a two-tiered judiciary, or the bills now before Parliament require a minimum two-thirds support in both Houses, which means that at least one member of the Opposition of the appointed Senate has to vote with the Government.

However, Andrew Holness, the 42-year-old leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who was born a decade after Jamaica's Independence, is opposed to Jamaica joining the civil and criminal jurisdiction of this regional court. The JLP says Jamaica should remain with the Privy Council and that any decision to leave should be on the basis of a referendum.

suspend debate

It is in this context that we again suggest that the Government suspend debate on the CCJ bills and that Mrs Simpson Miller engage in a serious discussion on the issue - a bit of horse-trading even. It would be important, in the circumstance, for Mr Holness to lift his party above the political expedience with which the JLP usually excites its discourse on Caribbean integration: a supposed anti-Jamaican sentiment in the region. In the end, though, what, fundamentally, Mr Holness has to resolve with regard to the CCJ is on what side of history he wants to stand and be remembered.

In its centuries of operation, most Jamaicans, except for the wealthy - and in recent decades, those convicted of murder and in receipt of pro bono from English lawyers - have had no real access to the Privy Council: it is too far away and, in all respects, too expensive for the majority.

The CCJ is headquartered in Trinidad, a country which Jamaicans, by virtue of their citizenship of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the regional single-market grouping, have right of entry - except in clearly defined circumstances - as was established by the CCJ, ruling in its original jurisdiction as interpreter of the CARICOM treaty. Ironically, that ruling was based on a case brought by a Jamaican woman, Shanique Myrie, testing her right as a CARICOM citizen in a court to which, in a domestic matter, she would have no access. There can be no question about the quality of the jurisprudence or the independence of the CCJ.

Further, Jamaica has already paid for the CCJ.

In the negotiations with Mrs Simpson Miller, Mr Holness' gambit should be for the Government to fund and manage Jamaica's courts in a fashion to make them as efficient and effective as the CCJ, thereby enhancing the quality of domestic justice to citizens. For that, he can count on our support.