Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Time for decisive action on CCJ

Published:Friday | October 23, 2015 | 10:00 AM

Some seven years ago I asked a Trini politician why his party was so opposed to becoming a state party to the appellate jurisdiction of the CARICOM Court of Justice (CCJ), especially since the CCJ was headquartered in Port of Spain.

Moreover, when in power (the attorney general in particular), their government was the most vociferous supporter of the CCJ. His brusque reply that the role of an opposition party was "to oppose" was, to say the least, disheartening. It suggested that for him and his cohorts, cheap advantage was more important than real progress in nation building and the development of the regional agenda. I recollect this story not to put anyone in a particular box but to underscore the fact that there are issues in political life that should transcend petty party rivalry and alignment, especially when the betterment of the nation and the region is at stake.

The long-coming and hopefully final debate on whether Jamaica should subject itself to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ is one such issue where our parliamentarians need to kick this mindset to the curb and think about what is best for the Jamaican people and what we need to do as a region to move forward.

Many legal luminaries and other ordinary citizens in Jamaica and across the region have made very cogent arguments aimed to prod the recalcitrant CARICOM member states to do what is right and overdue, and sign on to the CCJ as our highest court of appeal. The arguments have focused primarily on three concerns, first of which has been a concern with the calibre of CARICOM judges relative to those in the United Kingdom. This argument is conditioned by a deep seated inferiority complex honed in 307 years of colonialism which always questioned our intellectual ability and inherent capabilities. There are still too many among us who believe our judges are incapable of delivering a ruling or opinion which could be equal or superior to any such ruling or opinion from a UK court. In short, the English jurist residing some 4,684 miles away, remote from our realities, is genetically better programmed to dispensing justice in a fairer and more unfettered manner than any Jamaican or regional judge. This line of reasoning is pathetically regressive in a world where Caribbean member states have produced so many scholars, legal luminaries, international and regional civil servants, who have gone head-to-head with the best the world has offer. And if this was not enough evidence, there are comparative studies quoted by our jurists which indicate that CARICOM judges are equal to the task as evidenced from the fact that appeals to the privy court which have been allowed from UK judges are approximately the same as CARICOM judges.

Secondly, the cost of appealing to the Privy Council is prohibitive. As has been pointed out by the legal fraternity, the cost of an appeal to the Privy Council for most Jamaicans makes it a downright impossibility save for the very wealthy. That fact, in itself, is worrying as it sets up a parallel exclusive tract in dispensing justice and has no place in a modern Jamaica with too many other existing disparities across the spectrum of life.

Last of all, the UK wants to see the back of us. It is no secret that the president of the UK Supreme Court has said that UK judges are spending too much time and money on cases from 11 former colonies that still expect the UK to be provide this service. Of these 11 independent countries, eight are CARICOM member states. Over the last 60 years all of the other Commonwealth countries that maintained the right to appeal to the Privy Council decided to end this right of appeal to a court located overseas presided over by British judges, primarily because this was incongruous and not in keeping with the notion of sovereignty. Like other Commonwealth countries, one would have expected that pure pride would have prompted Jamaica and other CARICOM member states to make other arrangements especially where a viable alternative has existed for some 14 years.

The aforementioned is water under the proverbial bridge now. What is needed is for opposition senators (and others) to stand up and be counted and to do what is right and long overdue. Hopefully, we will be a witness to this in the Senate and the way will finally be paved for Jamaica's accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ. Thereafter we can set our sights on addressing the constitutional issue of Jamaica's republican status as the prime minister promised at the start of her current administration.

As a final word, I hope the new government of Trinidad and Tobago will also be able to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ and end what should be an untenable situation of a host nation to the CCJ that does not accept its full jurisdiction.

Ambassador Lorne T McDonnough CD is former CEO of the CARICOM Development Fund; a consultant on foreign affairs and development issues. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com