Much has already been made of the award by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) of approximately J$4 million to Shanique Myrie, the Jamaican woman who, two and a half years ago, was deported from Barbados after being held overnight in a cell and allegedly subjected to a vaginal search.
But the focus on the vindication of Ms Myrie misses the larger, and potentially more potent, import of the court's ruling and the lessons to be learned by Jamaica.
Further, as much as the Barbados government may initially bristle, this ruling strikes a major blow for the Caribbean integration project from which Barbadians will also benefit. It is a statement, too, about the relevance of the CCJ, how the court might even now be more efficaciously utilised by Jamaica, and a compelling argument for us to accede to its criminal and civil jurisdictions.
First, the court heard Ms Myrie's case under its original jurisdiction; that is, as the final interpreter of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas on which rests the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the functional cooperation and single-market grouping of which Jamaica is a member.
Critically, what the court has established are obligations of member states and the minimum treatment that CARICOM nationals should expect when they travel within the Community. There is, except in specific circumstances, entry by right under the Community's agreement to free movement of people within the bloc.
Said the CCJ justices: "In those exceptional cases, it would be reasonable, given also the sense of belonging that the 2007 conference decision seeks to instil in these nationals, to allow refused visitors the opportunity to consult an attorney or a consular official of their country, if available, or, in any event, to contact a family member."
Indeed - perhaps to the chagrin of some - it advances the idea of community law and highlights an instance in which the regional imperative overrides the domestic vacillation. "If binding regional decisions can be invalidated at the Community level by the failure on the part of a particular state to incorporate those decisions locally, the efficacy of the entire CARICOM regime would be jeopardised," the court noted.
In this context, we believe, it is not just travel in the region which is covered by this idea; the protection must extend to all other obligations to which CARICOM states subscribe by their membership to the treaty. And, importantly, the Myrie case, as have the handful of others brought under its original jurisdiction, suggests the willingness of the court to hold governments to their undertakings and responsibilities.
This is important, given the proclivity of the Jamaican private sector, as well as the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, to bleat about supposed discriminatory trade practices by other states, especially Trinidad and Tobago. Yet, they fail to utilise the mechanisms offered by the treaty, including the CCJ in its original jurisdiction, to invigilate their claims.
Additionally, the Myrie case should be an incentive for Jamaica, which contributed US$26 million for the establishment of the court, to go all the way to the CCJ.
Not only has its jurisprudential quality proved sound, but the itinerant manner in which the case was handled suggests a greater accessibility to all citizens if it were the final court on criminal and civil matters than is available at the Privy Council based in the United Kingdom.
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