Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Editorial: The logic of voting for CCJ

Published:Sunday | October 11, 2015 | 10:00 AM

Executing public policy often requires reconciling competing and, sometimes, apparently contradictory interests. In the circumstances, policymakers are more likely to give greater weight to what can be practically achieved and be of greatest value to the largest number of people.

Which is where we start regarding the imminent Senate debate on the bills to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's court of last resort for civil and criminal matters, and Arthur Williams' peroration on what will determine how he votes at the end of the debate. On that matter, this newspaper stands with Lloyd Barnett, the constitutional lawyer who supports a vote in favour of the court, as Mr Williams' suggestion of his intention to make the good and practical the enemy of the ideal.

Mr Williams is the opposition senator who challenged - and won - the constitutionality of the use by the party's leader, Andrew Holness, of a presigned and predated letter to oust him from the Senate. That, and similar letters, were to have been leverage against opposition senators voting with the Government, providing it with the two-thirds majority required for the vote to carry.

As the courts made clear that he and other senators are entitled to do, Mr Williams says he will vote in accordance with his conscience rather than being bound by the party's whip. His priority, Mr Williams argued, is to see Jamaica transform itself from a monarchy, with the Queen as head of state, to a republic - a decision that would have to be ratified by a referendum.

"If we rid ourselves of the monarchy, it most certainly can be argued that it is incongruous to retain the Privy Council (in England) as our final court, and then we may be asked to make our own judicial arrangements," he said.

This newspaper, too, supports Jamaica delinking itself from the monarchy and believes it is an indictment of the country's political parties/leadership that, unlike the matter of reparation for slavery, they have been unable to arrive at a consensus on this issue. But like Dr Barnett, we hold that Mr Williams' apparent presumption that the one should not be settled without the other "is irrational and unsupported by any principle".

 

AVAILABILITY OF JUSTICE

 

For as Dr Barnett argued, whatever other sentiments Mr Williams brings to his consideration, there is the immediately profound and practical matter of the availability of justice, at the highest level, to the majority of Jamaicans, to whom, Mr Williams would not deny, a UK-based court is largely inaccessible. Jamaica's petitioners have no right of entry to the seat of the court, and even if they scale that hurdle, attendant costs are prohibitive. Indeed, it is not without reason that most cases that reach the Privy Council from this jurisdiction are murder appeals, argued pro bono by English lawyers.

The CCJ is based on Trinidad and Tobago, a member of Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to which Jamaicans have a right of entry. Further, the CCJ is an itinerant court, which means that it can also come to the people it serves. Significantly, too, Mr Williams apparently has no doubt about the quality of the jurisprudence of the CCJ.

The removal of the colonial remnants of the monarchy would be an important symbol of Jamaica's independence, but even more important to our democracy is the availability and equality of justice.