Tue | Sep 17, 2019

Editorial | End the obstinacy on CCJ

Published:Sunday | July 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, despite his carefully parsed words and a valiant effort at ambiguity, would, at least to himself, acknowledge the irony of presiding at Adrian Saunders' oath-taking as president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Mr Holness, or whoever else, might pass it off as protocol. After all, he is now the chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). And in the event, the CCJ, in its original jurisdiction, is the final interpreter of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the instrument upon which CARICOM is founded.

So, when Mr Holness declares it beyond doubt that a properly functioning CCJ "is vital to creating and maintaining a regional community that works for all its members and for all our peoples", it might well be argued that his comments were limited to the court's role as arbiter of disputes within CARICOM and creating, and pronouncing on, community law.

But then, Mr Holness' hope that the court, under Justice Saunders' leadership, will continue to be "a beacon of justice" in the region, suggests, it seems, an appreciation of the role of the CCJ in underpinning the rule of law, to the benefit of the ordinary folk of the Caribbean, beyond those it impacts in its original jurisdiction. In other words, the Jamaican prime minister could hardly be oblivious to the CCJ as the court of last resort in criminal and civil matters for some Caribbean countries, as well as the high quality of the jurisprudence it has exercised in this area over the past decade. We interpret his remark as a wink of acknowledgement.




Yet, with great obstinacy, and in the absence of compelling argument, except, too often, for an irrational logic of politics that denies introspection or the changing of course in accordance with facts, Mr Holness continues to keep Jamaica outside that aspect of the CCJ, a court to which Jamaicans would inevitably have greater and easier access, as opposed to the Privy Council in England.

Mr Holness has talked of having Jamaica's accession to the CCJ decided in a plebiscite, which is not the requirement of the country's Constitution, whose framers obviously expected an exit from the Privy Council. As a practitioner, and, we presume, student of politics, Mr Holness would be aware of the nature of referenda, especially their propensity for being hijacked for narrowly partisan ends, rather than for the value of the issues on which citizens are consulted.

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Justice Saunders' home country, St Vincent, encountered this fatuous corralling of a plebiscite when he made joining the CCJ one of a raft of constitutional reforms on which Vincentians were asked to vote. A year and a half ago, Grenada's Keith Mitchell faced the same fate, in similar circumstances.

Dr Mitchell, for whom a referendum is constitutionally required to take his country out of the Privy Council, will have another go later this year, as will Antigua and Barbuda, which has a similar constitutional requirement. This newspaper hopes that those governments succeed. It would be easier for them, and of value to citizens of this country, if Jamaica were already in the court.

On the wider issue of regional economic integration, about which Mr Holness' party used to be, at best, lukewarm, Prime Minister Holness has shown a willingness to evolve. He ought now to go further with the court, whose logic, it ought to be obvious, is unimpeachable.