The intention of the justices of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to hear part of the Shanique Myrie case in Kingston next March is important in two significant respects.
From a public-relations standpoint, the decision is likely, as Delroy Chuck of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) concedes, to be positive for those who want Jamaica to accede to the court's criminal and civil jurisdictions. If Jamaica does that, the CCJ would become the country's court of last resort.
At the same time, it could well help to advance the cause of, and the interest of Jamaicans in, regional integration, about which we, at best, have been lukewarm.
Although Jamaica is signatory to the agreements establishing the CCJ and put up nearly a quarter of the capital in the trust from which the court is financed, the country is, for a lack of political consensus, not a member of its appellate jurisdiction. The Privy Council in Britain remains the final tier of the court from Jamaica and a clutch of other Caribbean countries.
However, this newspaper believes that there will be no remaining serious person who still harbours doubt of the intellectual capacity of Caribbean judges, and their court, to develop a jurisprudence of the highest quality. Further, the matter of the insulation of the court from political interference should have long been put to rest.
By coming to Jamaica and underlining its itinerant nature, the CCJ will go a long way in demonstrating its greater accessibility to ordinary people than could ever be the case with the Privy Council. In the first place, it would always be cheaper for litigation in Trinidad and Tobago, the court's headquarters, than the Privy Council's, in London. And without need for, and uncertainty of being granted, a visa to enter Britain. In that sense, the hearing in Jamaica, and in other territories where the court sits, is bringing the court symbolically closer to the people it is supposed to serve.
There is something as equally profound in the Shanique Myrie matter, a case in which a Jamaican woman claims that she was indecently assaulted by immigration/customs officials in Barbados and deported from that country. She is seeking damages.
The court is hearing this matter in its role as interpreter of the treaty that underpins the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), including the obligations of member states and the rights of Community citizens.
Any physical hurt or emotional distress that Ms Myrie may have suffered is one thing. A critical subset of the case is the access she, and other members of CARICOM, should reasonably expect when they travel within the Community, especially against the backdrop of Article 45 of the CARICOM treaty, in which members "commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the community".
Further, Article 46 2(b) obligates member states to put in place legislation and administrative procedures so as to "provide for the free movement into and within jurisdictions without harassment or the imposition of impediments".
Jamaicans often complain of harassment and impediments when travelling in the region, beyond what should be reasonably expected for security.
The ruling of the CCJ will be community law. In that respect, its decision in the Myrie case will be important. The case is also a demonstration of the right of regional people to test CARICOM's institutions.
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