Owen Arthur slams CARICOM states which have not fully signed on to the Caribbean Court of Justice
"I would be offended if somebody wanted to get justice for me (or) against me by taking me before a court in Britain. I would be offended. Let my Caribbean people try me," declared an impassioned Owen Arthur, former prime minister of Barbados, as he addressed a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Friday.
Arthur, who led the Barbados Labour Party to election victory in 1994 and served as prime minister until 2008, heaped scorn on CARICOM countries which have so far failed to endorse the Caribbean Court of Appeal (CCJ) in its entirety.
He argued that it is ironic that Barbados, which is considered one of the most conservative and Anglophile countries in the region, was the first to fully embrace the CCJ and dump the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final court of appeal.
"We have gone out of our way to create a court that is as good as, or better than, any court in the world and it's a sad thing on the Caribbean personality that (it has not been fully endorsed).
The veteran politician was particularly critical of Trinidad and Tobago, which he said had fought hard to get the regional court headquartered there but is yet to sign on to its appellate jurisdiction.
"The court could have been placed in Barbados, because the law school is in Barbados, but Trinidad said we need to have this court in Trinidad, and then they question its jurisdiction ... . That is ridiculous!" charged Arthur.
regional inferiority complex
With his passion for the CCJ coming through, Arthur argued that a fundamental obligation of any society is to provide justice for its own people and any continued dependence on outside forces is tantamount to a regional inferiority complex.
"If a society cannot provide justice for its own, what are we as a people and how can I look to somebody else to provide justice for me? I have to look to my peers to provide justice, for the notion of justice is judgment by your peers - that is why you have juries.
"The notion of the Caribbean looking to the Britain to provide justice for us is, I believe, elevating the people who serve on the British courts to a level of superiority in their jurisprudence that is not worthwhile," declared Arthur, as he argued that the CCJ was a natural outgrowth of the Caribbean's tradition of excellence in jurisprudence.
He pointed to the rules under which the CCJ was established as a testament to its integrity, as he described fears of bias and political interference as non-issues.
"All across the region, we have had a history of persons who have been in the judiciary having that sense of jurisprudence and probity that they never get caught up in politics.
"I was there, and we decided that we were going to vest that court with a financial independence so that it was not ever subject to any rash decisions by politicians. So we created a trust fund, borrowed the money and fully capitalised it, and every year that court doesn't have to look to any government budget."
Pressed on the unwillingness of Caribbean people of different nationalities to recognise each other as peers as an inherent setback for the CCJ, the veteran politician was dismissive.
"But they don't also regard the British as their peers either, so why are you before the British Privy Council?"
He rejected the notion that the Privy Council was easily the lesser of two evils.
"No, no. One of the areas in which there has been excellence, historically, has been in the Caribbean people's provision of jurisprudence for their own. The basis of a society, the fundamental reason why the society exists, is to provide for their own, and throughout history the strength of society has been that people can look to their own for judgment, rather than to look to somebody else."
Based in Trinidad, the CCJ has two jurisdictions: an original and an appellate jurisdiction, and while most Caribbean countries are signatories to its original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana, Dominica and Belize have, to date, signed on to its appellate jurisdiction replacing the Privy Council as their final court of appeal.
Locally, the governing People's National Party used its parliamentary majority in the House of Representatives to get the relevant bills passed to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ.
However, the Government will need at least one opposition member in the Senate to vote in its favour because of a two-thirds majority threshold.