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EDITORIAL - The CCJ: a declaration of relevance

Published:Monday | March 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM

An important event is unfolding in Kingston today which, perhaps, may be a defining moment for Jamaica. We hope it is.

The matter to which we refer is the sitting here of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), albeit in its original jurisdiction, which it is to say in its capacity as arbiter of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that established the Caribbean Community's Single Market and Economy, of which Jamaica is a member.

The CCJ's other division is as the final court for some Caribbean countries in criminal and civil matters. In those areas, the CCJ has no authority in Jamaica. For while this country is a signatory to the instruments establishing the CCJ and is fully subscribed to the trust fund through which its operations are financed, we have not acceded to its criminal and civil jurisdictions. There is a lack of political consensus on the issue.

So Jamaica's final court remains the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which, in practical terms, constitutes the judges of the Supreme Court of England and Wales when they hear cases from the former British colonies that retain them as their court of last resort. That is why the CCJ's sitting in Jamaica is relevant. It is a profound statement for Jamaica's full accession to the court.

The Shanique Myrie case

This segment of the case being heard in Jamaica concerns Shanique Myrie, a young Jamaican woman who, two years ago, visited Barbados, was denied entry and deported, but not before, she claims, she was subject to a vaginal search and insults for being Jamaican.

Essentially, this case is about the minimum expectations of CARICOM nationals when then they travel within the Community, among whose intents is the free movement of its, as well as the capacity of the CCJ to rule on the behaviour of CARICOM states with regard to their obligations to uphold global charters and declarations on human rights to which they are signatories.

What is significant about the sitting in Kingston is the CCJ's use of its rules to make justice more accessible to the people it was created to serve. Ms Myrie, her lawyers, and any witnesses they may call will not have the expense of air travel to the court's headquarters in Trinidad and Tobago and accommodation. Similarly, the judges will hear evidence in Barbados.

Economically prohibitive

In the hundreds of years of its existence, the Privy Council, in so far as we can determine, has not heard a case in any of these territories. Indeed, taking a case to the Privy Council in London is economically prohibitive for but few Caribbean nationals, except those appealing their sentences in murder cases, where the physical presence of appellants and witnesses is not usually required, and the appellants are likely to receive representation pro bono.

Indeed, the fact that the CCJ is itinerant should make it attractive to persons and organisations, including the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose declared commitment includes the advancement of justice for all Jamaicans.

Further, past hollow arguments about the independence of the CCJ have long been put to rest. No court, anywhere, is as insulated as this one. Nor can past unfounded, and perhaps contrived, fear of the ability of a regional court to develop a quality jurisprudence still be paraded as a reason for staying out of the CCJ.

It is time for the JLP to end its roadblock to Jamaica' accession to the court.

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