Editorial: Malahoo Forte’s distraction
It is unfortunate that Marlene Malahoo Forte and her letter have been allowed to hijack, and potentially derail, the substance of the debate over the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and whether Jamaica should accede to its civil and criminal jurisdiction.
The focus now is on Malahoo Forte's suspension from the Senate over her alleged contempt for the authority of the president, Floyd Morris, and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) claim that she was denied natural justice by Morris and the governing People's National Party's majority. All this is over the member's failure, during two sittings of the Senate, to deliver a 2010 letter, from which she quoted, of the Privy Council's ostensible declaration of its willingness to sit in Jamaica.
That, fundamentally, is a distraction. This newspaper had no doubt that the letter existed. Several times in the past, JLP officials, including one-time prime minister Edward Seaga, have made reference to the offer, without, as was the case with Malahoo Forte, any discussion of its fuller context.
Even with Malahoo Forte's tardiness, thus far, in unveiling the full contents of the letter, and the justice ministry's claim of its absence from their files, it is an open secret that the letter was promoted by a senior associate for a London law firm that has acted often for Jamaica's and other Caribbean governments. On that score, it could conceivably be argued that that firm, and the specific associate, might have an interest in the Privy Council remaining as the final court for Jamaica and other regional countries.
It is not too much of a secret that the Privy Council would have wished a formal invitation from Jamaica for it to sit in Jamaica. Herein lies the crux of the issue from which attention is being diverted by the discussion of Malahoo Forte's suspension and why the government side in the Upper House may have made a tactical error in the matter.
The fact is
The fact is that the Privy Council is not, genuinely, an itinerant court. Any sitting in Jamaica would be largely symbolic.
Indeed, in its 180 years, the Privy Council has sat outside England on a handful of occasions, including three times in The Bahamas - 2006, 2007 and 2009. It has also been to Mauritius a few times.
Coincidentally, the first Bahamas session came shortly after the launch of the CCJ and in the midst of a broader regional debate on the sense of remoteness of the Privy Council to which Wayne Munroe, the then president of the Bahamian Bar, alluded: "It is important for persons who govern to see those who they are governing. And as the apex of the third branch of government of this country, it is useful for you to be seen to be human, just as the persons whose justice you affect."
That latter point is crucial- about a court not being perceived as ethereal by the community it serves. It is a point with which former Privy Council justice, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, agrees, except as he remarked in relation to the Isle of Man: "if the money and logistics permit as." These considerations would include their workload as justices of Britain's Supreme Court.
Economics is not only a concern for the managers of the CCJ. So it is, too, for the majority of Jamaicans who would wish access to the court.