Tue | Sep 22, 2020

CCJ coverage: tribal commentary!?

Published:Tuesday | May 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Fae Ellington
Abka Fitz-Henley

I have quietly observed public commentary regarding the Government's push to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final appellate court. I find that a few senior media commentators are more tribal than anyone who sits in Gordon House or whose headquarters is Belmont Road or Old Hope Road.

One of the arguments trumpeted by various spokespersons for the governing People's National Party (PNP), including Chairman Robert Pickersgill, has been that a referendum is not necessary because it would be too costly to the long-suffering and "overburdened taxpayers" of Jamaica.

A second advanced by officialdom in the governing party is that the sanctimonious independence of the Senate as contemplated by the Constitution of Jamaica must be recognised and not trifled with.

A few weeks ago, I broke news that the Simpson Miller administration via its agent, the leader of government business in the Lower House, Phillip Paulwell, has put a formal proposal to the parliamentary Opposition indicating that it's willing to have a referendum if the opposition leader would sign an agreement committing to, among other things, have at least 50 per cent of Opposition members in the Senate vote for the CCJ bills and ensure that they are passed into law. The Information Minister has since said it should be described as a draft MOU.

I have not heard one senior media commentator or seen any newspaper editorial question whether the behind-closed-doors push for a prearranged vote is not manifestly contrary to the grand notion of the Upper House being the hallowed chamber of independence and conscience.


No questions asked


Second, I have not heard one senior media practitioner demand an explanation from the governing party for its U-turn regarding a supposed willingness to hold a referendum on the issue. When the draft MOU was communicated to the Opposition by Minister Paulwell, was it then contemplated that suddenly the people should be exposed to what Minister Pickersgill had described as the massive burden of cost that a referendum would attract?

The attempt to secure a last-ditch secret deal regarding the CCJ was disclosed and on the same day of the vote in the Lower House. On that day, in an apparent rallying cry, respected senior broadcaster Fae Ellington tweeted: "Members of the Opposition #JLP who vote against party line, & vote for the #CCJ would gain the respect of the nation #VoteYourConscience."

Did Ms Ellington not contemplate that the same appeal should be made to members of the governing party? Does Miss Fae, with all her experience, really believe that the consciences of all 42 government MPs and 13 government senators was guiding them to vote for the CCJ bills? Why then did Miss Fae not extend a similar rallying crying to members of the governing party?

Additionally, did it not occur to Miss Fae to question the draft MoU advanced behind closed doors? No mention of the topical esteemed notion of conscience that should guide the voting exercise in the Upper House was mentioned in the document advanced by Phillip Paulwell.

The Opposition has recommended that consideration be given to establishing a final appellate court in Jamaica. I do not agree. Some influential members of the judiciary in Jamaica are not nearly insulated from the long and cunning arms of power brokers on the island. I would hate for a case in the would-be Jamaican final appellate court to be decided on the premise of whose pocket is deeper or whether an esteemed judge has committed to being faithful to the interest of a claimant who happens to be a member of the same secret society of which the said judge is a member.


CCJ preference


There is no reason to believe that the CCJ is insulated from such sinister reach. However, the scope for what I perceive to be questionable developments in our courts may well be less at the level of the CCJ. Out of a recognition that, sooner or later, Jamaica may have to bid adieu to the UK-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, I would prefer the CCJ being our final appellate court.

However, crucially, I cannot abide any argument advanced for the people not to be consulted on this matter, especially so when that argument is advanced by persons who claim to respect democracy, and consequently, posture as if they have regard for the power of the people and are never shy to spend our money on issues of far less importance.

Has Ms Fae or those of her ilk pushing the 'No Referendum/Full Speed Ahead with CCJ' agenda contemplated that it may not be prudent for a group of 84 wise men and women (legislators) to decide whether we have a Jamaican final appellate court, retain the Privy Council (for now), or join the CCJ ?

- Abka Fitz-Henley is a journalist at Nationwide News Network. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and abkafitzhenley@yahoo.com.