Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Letter of the Day: Pro-CCJ vote a no-brainer

Published:Wednesday | October 7, 2015 | 10:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

In the guest column of Sunday last, Senator Arthur Williams explained his approach to the vote on the three bills that seek to bring Jamaica within the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). In doing so, he makes five points. First is that he will give mature deliberation "and conscientious thought to the topic".

Second is that he will not be influenced by the possible impact of his vote on his future in the Jamaica Labour Party. Third, all senators should vote by his or her conscience, whether government or opposition senators.

Fourth, the Government should have engaged the parliamentary Opposition in an effort to seek consensus on the proposal to terminate appeals to the Privy Council and fully embrace the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.

Fifth, that the change from a monarchical form of government to a republican form should precede the adoption of the CCJ as Jamaica's final appellate court.

The first four points are principled and reasonable. It is commendable that Senator Williams should say that he will vote on his conscience and in conformity with his duty to the people of Jamaica, as well as exclude any consideration as to his personal political fortunes. It is also the moral and constitutional duty of all senators to do likewise.

Senator Williams is also on good grounds in stating that there should have been consultation by the Government with the Opposition on the change from the Privy Council to CCJ. The Constitution makers and our practices and conventions since the beginning of fully representative government, and particularly since Independence, support such dialogue with respect to constitutional changes.

However, in this case, the JLP initially supported the decision to establish the CCJ. If Senator Williams is to cast his vote in the interest of the people of Jamaica, it cannot properly be dictated by his dissatisfaction as to how the PNP Government has gone about it.

The fifth point is irrational and unsupported by any principle. I strongly support Senator Williams' point that we should abolish the monarchical form of Government by which the British Crown, despite its historical association with slavery, colonialism and imperialism, remains as a symbol at the apex of our Constitution and a distraction from our sense of nationhood. Senator Williams should recognise that the Privy Council is part of that historic symbolism. It is, therefore, better to remove one immediately than to retain both indefinitely.

In the final analysis, however, the question is whether the change proposed in the bill is correct or not. It is clear that Senator Williams recognised the incongruity and inappropriateness of retaining not only the monarchy, but the Privy Council at the apex of our constitutional system.

But quite apart from the philosophical and patriotic sentiments affecting his decision, Senator Williams should take into account the interests of the Jamaican people. As an attorney-at-law, he would understand that the Privy Council is virtually inaccessible to the majority of Jamaicans who have court cases because of the geographical hurdles and financial barriers.

Can anyone responsibly support and vote to retain the maintenance of the current system when the average Jamaican is unable to gain access to the highest court in the system? Can a conscientious Jamaican in 2015 vote against the "reparation" of our self-esteem, sense of independence and detachment from imperial institutionalism?

LLOYD G. BARNETT

Attorney-at-lawdr.lgbarnett@gmail.com