Harding bats for local final appellate court
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology, Professor Oswald Harding, is complaining bitterly that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is not giving the Jamaican people value for money.
Harding, a former attorney general, has taken issue with the Jamaican Government for dishing out US$3.07 million annually to help keep the regional court functional instead of focusing on the faltering justice framework locally.
The former president of the Senate noted that the US$3.07 million is Jamaica's 28 per cent annual contribution to the operation of the CCJ.
At a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week, Harding severely censured what he characterised as successive governments' insistence on burdening Jamaicans with a hefty contribution that has failed to yield tangible benefits to the country.
"So far, we have paid US$21 million to the court and it's only being used as a court of first jurisdiction," Harding said.
"So when we hear the counter argument that we can't afford a local court, how much are we paying there? Have you looked at our budget?" questioned Harding.
He argued that the political directorate should revisit the feasibility of the CCJ in the new dispensation.
Harding's comments echoed attorney-at-law Robert Collie's who in January urged the then recently elected Portia Simpson Miller administration to rethink the money being spent on the CCJ.
"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," said Collie in a letter to The Gleaner.
"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," added Collie.
In the meantime, Harding also used the Editors' Forum to express his displeasure with the fact that after forking out a significant financial contribution to the CCJ, no Jamaican was appointed to the Bench when it was established.
"We are paying 20 per cent (of the cost) and no Jamaicans; what's the problem? I know that Jamaicans have applied. Why no Jamaicans?"
The former Jamaica Labour Party statesman accused the People's National Party (PNP) of clinging to a protracted, if not futile, love affair with the concept of regionalism without any benefit to Jamaica.
not reaping benefits
"I am going to say something that is going to upset my friends here. This CCJ thing is a continuation of (the collapsed West Indian of the late 1950s) Federation and the People's National Party has always focused on this CARICOM thing. We now have ask ourselves, 'What are we getting out of CARICOM?'"
Harding contends that as the Government seeks to have its way with the CCJ, the court is not considered a priority issue to regional neighbour Trinidad and Tobago.
"The prime minister of Trinidad says the CCJ is not a priority. Recently, she said she would go to the Privy Council only on criminal matters. These are some of the things we have to look at," he argued.
"I am on record when I was attorney general that I supported the CCJ, my position is that it's a brilliant idea ... . I was interested in a CCJ because I was interested in a Caribbean jurisprudence," he said.
"Having said that, why can't we now stop and examine our position?
Harding stressed that he harbours no desire to remain in the Privy Council.
"So this talk about colonialism and not being independent does not sell with me," he declared.
"Why not opt for a local final court of five instead of regional court of three? Are our judges not capable? Do we not trust our judges? Those are things we have to look at."