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Use CCJ funding to improve our own courts

Published:Thursday | January 5, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Robert Collie, Contributor

I have noticed the stream of letters in your newspaper and elsewhere attesting to the 'need' for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Here are a few facts that may be worth swallowing before the CCJ crowd jumps up and down and trumpets victory:

1 Currently, the Government of Jamaica spends US$3.07 million per annum to maintain this court. We are the biggest financial contributor to a court that was not chosen by the Jamaican people.

2 Currently, the Government of Jamaica spends US$0 to maintain the Privy Council.

3 Trinidad and Tobago, the country that currently hosts the CCJ, has given all indications that it has no intention of joining the CCJ. This may be linked to the history in that country of judges leaving the Bench and becoming actively involved in the political process. The saga of their former chief justice, Satnarine Sharma, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, one could look at the recent involvement of a local resident magistrate, who left the Bench to join the political process, of the very real fact that you will have judges who will have their political biases. I will quote the well-worn line from Lord Hewart CJ in R v Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy: "Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."

4 The British, despite all their protestations, cannot unilaterally dispense with the Privy Council. It is part of the Jamaican Constitution (as is the Queen). It would require the head of state in Jamaica to rid herself of us (which she has every right of doing). However, her role as Queen of England does not, in theory at least, supersede role as Queen of Jamaica.

5 The CCJ only recently appointed a Jamaican to sit on its Bench, a Jamaican who has never served in the judiciary in Jamaica or elsewhere. It is to be noted that a lot of the criticism levelled against the decision in Morin v the Attorney General of Belize targeted the judge's judgment. To even the unseasoned legal scholar, his judgment, in particular, was cause to pause, though one thankfully notes that the outgoing CCJ president, Michael de la Bastide, and Justice Saunders of the same CCJ provided most excellent judgments to counterbalance that judge's judgment.

Appeals to indignation over colonialism is a red herring which should not be given any substantial weight. We do not look to our courts with any special lustre that their being called 'colonial' affects any right-thinking Jamaican. We want our courts to provide predictable, reliable and judicially sound judgments. It has been our experience, in Jamaica at least, that these characteristics don't come out often from our justice system.

Give common man a say

If the CCJ is such that it will meet with the people's desire, and if it is to have the ultimate judgment over the people's lives, the people should be allowed to have a say in whether they want the court or not. The feeling that justice is a cloistered virtue that the common man should have no say over may be 'catnip' for the petit-bourgeoisie intelligentsia in our higher-education senior common rooms. However, it does not resonate with the common man.

Maybe if we had more accountability for our judges and people didn't feel that judges were so untouchable and unrelatable, maybe people could start to buy into our justice system and feel that it is an integral part of their lives.

We are spending US$3.07 million a year that could be better spent fixing our local courthouses, training more judges and providing greater access to justice. We could have a main criminal courthouse in Kingston that actually has parking that members of the public and attorneys can have access to. We could even, and this may blow the minds of readers, actually start to clear up the backlog of cases jamming our court system.

One wonders what the almost US$21 million, since inauguration, could have been used for. Hopefully, something more than a shiny building in Port-of-Spain providing fat pay cheques to judges who know as much about the life of the man in Pepper, St Elizabeth, as they know about the life of the man on Broad Street, Bridgetown.

Robert Collie is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and robertcollie@gmail.com.