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Former CCJ president urges Jamaica to avoid Grenadian influence

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2016 | 12:00 AM
De La Bastide

A former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Michael De La Bastide, has urged Jamaicans not to be influenced by last week's rejection by Grenadians of the court, even as Mark Golding, a strong Jamaican proponent of the CCJ, conceded that the outcome of the St George's referendum was a setback for its supporters.

"I think it (the Grenadian vote) unfortunate and Jamaica should not follow," De La Bastide, who headed the decade-old court for the first seven years of its existence, told The Gleaner yesterday from his home in Port-of-Spain.

Unlike Jamaica's, Grenada's constitution demands a referendum for the country to remove the United Kingdom-based Privy Council as its final appellate court for it to accede to the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the CCJ.

That matter was one of several constitutional changes, including the establishment of an independent constituencies boundaries commission and term limits for prime ministers, that Keith Mitchell's government put to the people in the plebiscite. All were roundly defeated after a partisan and divisive debate, which the opposition sought to posit as a test of the Mitchell administration.

"The whole thing was politicised, and that is why you do not have a referendum on judicial issues," said Patrick Atkinson, the attorney general in the former People's National Party (PNP) administration, which twice failed in efforts to join the CCJ.

In its first effort in the mid-2000s, the Privy Council ruled the attempt unconstitutional.

Later, while it had the two-thirds majority in the Lower House to push the bills, it faltered in the Senate, where it required at least one Opposition member to side with the Government.

Golding, the PNP justice minister at the latter attempt, while still harbouring the ideals of the regional court, acknowledged the further psychological hurdle now posed by the Grenada vote.

"It is a setback in the sense that we would like all of the Caribbean Community countries to join the CCJ," he said.

"But the fact that one has voted against it should not mean Jamaica should not go ahead with it."

Andrew Holness's Jamaica Labour Party, which has in the past opposed the CCJ, pledged in its manifesto for the February general election to put the matter to Jamaicans in a referendum but has not broached the issue since.

Like Atkinson, Golding argued that the decision by Grenadians to vote against subscribing to the regional court was not necessarily an indicator of their feeling about the institution itself. Rather, he said, it was "an indication that populations tend to reject proposals put forward by the government of the day or the 'establishment'".

He added: "A referendum is more likely to result in a vote against the political class than a vote focusing on the specific issues on the ballot."

Currently, three Caribbean countries subscribe to the court - Barbados, Belize, and Guyana - while Dominica is soon to make its formal accession.

The failure of other countries to join, and last week's vote by Grenada, according to De La Bastide, gives the impression that a regional court is inferior to the Privy Council.

However, former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur believes that Jamaica's embrace of the court would help change regional attitudes towards it.

"If Jamaica were to join the court, it will be a strong signal for others to look at," he said during a recent seminar in Kingston.

"Each island will make its own decision, but if Jamaica joins, it reinforces that the court is expanding and more countries will have confidence in it."

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