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Caribbean Court of J…?

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2015 | 5:00 AMDr Orville Taylor

It is not as simple an issue as the People's National Party (PNP) and other pro-Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) advocates might think - and they know it. It has long been a personal peeve to have a set of foreigners having ultimate say over our judicial decisions.

After all, we do not allow people with alien passports to sit in our Parliament. And please! This notion that Commonwealth citizens are not foreigners is so much bull that it could start its own rodeo.

The citizenship test is as simple as some elected officials. If one has to acquire a visa in order to enter that country, it is a foreign country. In fact, the American Embassy here in Kingston reports that around 70 per cent of all applicants qualify for American visas.

On the other hand, the percentage of Jamaicans who get visas from the British High Commission could be around 50. While I would welcome the most up-to-date statistics, data from the end of the first decade of the 2000s showed an embarrassing disparity, with the rest of the Caribbean being in the 90 percentage range. Thus, it is easier to go visit our Uncle Sam than it is to journey to the 'motherland'.

I have no issue with the friendly relationship between our two countries; however, if I am going to continue to drink breast milk from my mother, it must be chocolate. And I am not alone. A January RJR Don Anderson poll revealed that 49 per cent of Jamaicans want the United Kingdom-based Privy Council to be replaced by the CCJ. On the other hand, 25 per cent of my countrymen said no.

It is close to a majority, and with a bit more informed activism, better knowledge and sharpness from our politicians than they have shown on the Garvey pardon issue, a victory for its advocacy should be the result.

competent judges

Let me make it clear: I am not going to follow the nonsensical argument that our judges are not of comparable competence to the British judges. Indeed, the nature of the Privy Council allows it to draw upon senior Commonwealth jurists outside of the United Kingdom, and at least one well-known Jamaican high court judge has sat on matters before the council. Moreover, when one looks at the quality of Judge Patrick Robinson, who was recently appointed to the International Court of Justice after a three-year stint as president of the International Criminal Tribunal concerning the former Yugoslavia, it would be a mark of great disrespect to disqualify our judges on that basis.

And, despite the discomfort that some members of the Jamaican judiciary and magistrates have with my constant riding of the data from Transparency International, I have no reason to believe that Jamaican judges are more corrupt than 'Sir Nigel'.

As I reported two weeks ago, the survey indicated that six per cent of Jamaicans responded yes to the question, "Have you or anyone in your household paid a bribe to ... the judiciary?" In comparison, 21 per cent of Britons said yes. Thank God for my British-type education because the numbers mean the same in any language or country. And when the average British bloke was asked about paying a quid or two to the 'copper,' or 'Bobby', eight per cent of them said yes. Jamaica's numbers were slightly higher at 12 per cent.

judiciary purity

However, despite the more-than-one-in-five incidence of paying money to judges in Britain, the Brits have a myth that they believe in regarding the purity of their judiciary. Therefore, blinding their eyes to their experiences, only 24 per cent of them feel that the British judiciary is corrupt. Jamaicans are more realistic and are not fooled by the pristine images from Crown Court and other legendary British television series.

We know that when fish say that there are sharks 'dung a wata bottom', we had better believe. And if politicians, police and lawyers from both sides are venal, what would make our judges sacred? Thus, realistically, almost half of us, 47 per cent - and like the red of the egg, I am in that group - believe that there is corruption among judges.

But give me my Jamaican jurists over the Brits. At least I can criticise them without having my visa revoked or being barred from going to the UK to defend my case.

Yet, this argument of the competence and relative cleanliness of the Jamaican judiciary is a double-edged sword. If our Government, whose party has produced a president of the Court of Appeal and has DNA linked to the aforementioned Justice Robinson, believes that our Jamaican judges are of such high standard, why not simply cut out the foreigners and CARICOM all our final appeals to a final Jamaican appellate court?

free movement

However, if the CCJ is part of a thrust towards regional integration, as I hope it is, the issues of free movement of West Indian citizens must be a prerequisite.

Be that as it may, the polls indicate that 60 per cent of Jamaicans believe that inasmuch as we may want a final appellate CCJ, the route must be a national vote. Perhaps the 42 PNP parliamentarians believe that the party's will is that of the people. Nonetheless, they should recall that in 2011, Andrew Holness ignored the majority of Jamaicans who said no December election. The 69 per cent slapped him in the face and he had to suck on humble pie in defeat.

Information is that the PNP made overtures to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in an attempt to 'colt the game'. In essence, the PNP commits to a referendum if the JLP agrees to majority support for CCJ bills and refrains from campaigning against it. It looks like it had the same teacher who guided Holness to the pre-written resignation letters.

Such an approach is repugnant and an affront to true democracy, and bet the Labourites will say neigh.

- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.