Editorial | Get on with the Caribbean Court of Justice
Sometime between the end of September and the middle of October, the people of Antigua and Barbuda should be voting in a referendum on whether the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) should become that country's final court, replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
We hope they opt for the CCJ, but recognise that it is a big ask. For, while the governing Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party has the two-thirds majority to pass the bill in the House, and could probably do so in the Senate with support from the opposition members, it is not foregone what might happen in a plebiscite. Their Constitution requires a two-thirds vote on that election to end appeals to the Privy Council.
The difficulty notwithstanding, this newspaper is hopeful. Or hopes that good sense prevails. The government of Prime Minister Gaston Browne supports the idea of the CCJ, and more than two years ago sponsored a commission to undertake a national debate and public education on the matter. Unfortunately, as in Jamaica, the issue of the court has been the victim of domestic political manoeuvrings. The United Progressive Party (UPP), which once supported the CCJ, went cold on the idea, ostensibly on the grounds that it should be part of a wider constitutional reform, including changes to the mechanism for the conduct of elections.
The UPP, however, lost heavily in recent elections and may be chastened into casting its lot with the CCJ. Better yet would be the transcending of narrow politics and the embracing of the logic of a regional court. The CCJ, of course, can be a powerful symbol of this region's continued emancipation from colonial entanglements and a repatriation of sovereignty.
FAR MORE ACCESSIBLE
But it can be something profoundly practical, and in that sense, important to the English-speaking Caribbean subscribers to the court. It has the capacity to open wider to them the doors of justice. The point is that an itinerant court based in Port-of-Spain is likely to be far more accessible to Caribbean people than one headquartered in Britain, a country to which the Privy Council's Caribbean users have no automatic right of entry. The CCJ is cheaper to use, and during its more than a decade in operation, has proven itself as a deliverer of the highest quality of jurisprudence.
Data are not available, but we believe it far more than anecdotal to suggest that a far greater number of cases, covering a wider range of issues, now reach the highest level of appeal from the initial subscriber countries, Barbados, Guyana and Belize - and soon Dominica - than when they relied on the Privy Council. That's another way of saying that there has been an expansion of justice, including to the less-than-wealthy citizens of those countries.
In this regard, we hope Antigua and Barbuda's move inspires Prime Minister Andrew Holness to a more pragmatic approach to the CCJ, which, while in Opposition, his party rejected mainly on political grounds, as well as a residual sense of remoteness from, and an ill-defined grievance against, Jamaica's Caribbean partners. The latter issue is essentially settled. Mr Holness has declared Jamaica's mission to remain in CARICOM and has sought to assert himself as a leader of the Community. We are hard-pressed to discern any objection he would have, at an intellectual level, with the court.
Politically, the tactical advantage he sought by opposing the court is no longer necessary, nor is the contrivance of making it part of a referendum with other issues. Under Jamaica's Constitution, a referendum isn't required to establish and entrench the CCJ as Jamaica's final court. And Mr Holness has no discernibly good or logical reason not to get on with the project, which the Opposition People's National Party, as a long-standing proponent of the court, couldn't oppose.