By Peter Espeut
As someone who travels the Caribbean from time to time, I welcome the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the Shanique Myrie case. The CCJ held that "CARICOM nationals are entitled to enter CARICOM member states, without harassment or the imposition of impediment, and to stay for up to six months".
There is no doubt that some CARICOM nationals are subject to harassment by immigration officers as they seek to enter certain CARICOM countries, but in my view, the judgment in the Shanique Myrie case is only a start on addressing the problem.
What does it mean that I am 'entitled to enter' any CARICOM member state? Citizens of the United States are entitled to enter their own country; they fill out no immigration forms; only customs forms.
Should we be allowed to enter CARICOM countries without being required to fill out immigration forms? Right now, Jamaicans are required to to fill out immigration forms to enter Jamaica. Should not Jamaicans be entitled to enter Jamaica without the harassment of being required to fill out immigration forms? Doesn't swiping our machine-readable passports provide immigration officials with enough information?
This entitlement I have to enter any CARICOM member state: Am I entitled to enter only to visit friends, and to see the sights, or am I also entitled to enter to work? If not, does this entitle immigration officers to ask me questions to become satisfied that I am not seeking to work in their country? Or must he or she just take my word for it?
This brings us to the question of what constitutes 'harassment'. Just last week, I sought to enter Trinidad to attend a conference, and I put that down on my immigration form. This did not satisfy the immigration officer, who asked me, "What conference?" Used to this sort of question, I produced my letter of invitation, which the officer scrutinised carefully for some time. Only then did he (grudgingly, I thought) stamp my passport and let me into his country.
Was this a breach of my entitlement to enter Trinidad 'without harassment'? Suppose I did not have my letter of invitation?
If I am entitled to enter, must I tell them where I am going to stay and who I am going to stay with? Is asking me these questions 'harassment'? Week before last (on my way to Trinidad), I sought to enter Barbados, and I dutifully filled out the immigration form. It asked me for my address in Barbados, which I dutifully put on the form. The immigration officer then asked me, "Whose address is this?"
That question is not on the form. Was this a breach of my entitlement to enter Barbados 'without harassment'? When I gave the person's name, she wrote it on the form. 'What is the purpose of your visit to Barbados?' I gave the answer, after which she stamped my passport and allowed me into her country.
entering without harassment
What does 'to enter CARICOM member states, without harassment or the imposition of impediment', mean exactly? Will we need other court cases to interpret the Shanique Myrie judgment? I hope that the heads of government of CARICOM can, at a future conference, sit down and decide all of this, without private citizens needing to go to court.
The CCJ heard this case in its original jurisdiction. CARICOM has charged it with the responsibility to interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established CARICOM). Inevitably, those who wish Jamaica to make the CCJ its court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters by abolishing appeals to the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council are rejoicing at this CCJ decision and cite it as further support for their position.
What is the logic here? That because the decision favoured Jamaica in this case, we should abolish appeals to the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council? Suppose the decision had favoured the government of Barbados? Would that be solid proof that we should retain appeals to the Privy Council?
The Myrie lawsuit showcased the CCJ and its workings, and was intended to impress Jamaicans. Barbados has already abolished appeals to the UK Privy Council, and has no other court before which to appeal its loss in the Myrie case.
I welcome the CCJ judgment, but for me, it raises more questions than answers. I am not sure that, in the end, the court's decision has solved anything. And I, for one, see in it no reason to abolish the Privy Council as Jamaica's court of last resort in civil and criminal matters.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.