Having tabled bills in Parliament for the removal of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the country's final court of appeal, replacing it with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the Government has apparently forgot that they can now be debated.
The bills, which were tabled on April 23, became eligible for debate three months ago but, as was the case last parliamentary year when the bills fell off the Order Paper, it seems the Government is afraid it will not be able to sway at least one opposition senator to ensure their success.
But given the fact that only five months remain in the legislative year, we are not hopeful that the CCJ issue will get pride of place this parliamentary year. Just the thought of the bills falling off the Order Paper for another year is distressing. Based on the Constitution, bills seeking to amend the country's supreme law must sit on the table of the House for three months before being debated. There is also a requirement that the bill sits on the table for another three months before being put to a vote.
In the memorandum of objects and reasons for one of the three bills, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller states that consequent to Jamaica's ratification of the agreement to establish the CCJ as the final court to which appeals can be made from decisions of Jamaica's Court of Appeal, it is necessary to do away with appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
"This bill therefore seeks to amend Section 110 of the Constitution to repeal the provisions relating to appeals to Her Majesty in Council (namely, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council) and to replace them with provisions establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica's final court".
The prime minister noted that the bill makes provision for appeals from decisions in criminal proceedings to be part of the original proceedings; and the provisions of the Constitution that confer an advisory role in relation to the question of the removal of any judge of the Supreme Court or of the Court of Appeal.
"Additionally, this bill makes provision in relation to the appointment, tenure, emoluments and other terms and conditions of service of the president and other judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice, which provisions seek to enshrine their independence and security of tenure. This bill also contains transitional provisions to exclude from the application of the provisions of the bill, any appeals to Her Majesty in Council which were instituted before the date of commencement of the provisions of this bill, or in respect of which leave or special leave to appeal was granted or application for leave was made before that date," the prime minister said.
But with the parliamentary opposition insisting that a referendum is necessary for the establishment of the CCJ as Jamaica's final court of appeal, Simpson Miller and her team, notwithstanding the message sent to them by the voters in the 2011 general elections, have shied away from taking the necessary steps to put Jamaica firmly in the CCJ.
In the December 2011 elections, ahead of which the issue of the CCJ issue was placed in the public domain as an action the People's National Party would take if elected, Simpson Miller's team secured a 2:1 victory. The margin of victory guarantees that the CCJ bills can be passed in the House of Representatives but, unless an opposition senator jumps ship, it will not pass the Senate.
Last Friday, Opposition Senator Alexander Williams, a very cerebral and measured lawmaker, said it was preferable that matters of the judiciary not be exposed to the political hustings. He, however, made a compelling case for a referendum, arguing that it was unwise to have the country's final court of appeal be at the same level as Parliament and the director of public prosecutions. Williams said it was most desirable to have the people decide on the question of whether the CCJ should be deeply entrenched.
We believe that Simpson Miller, given Williams' position, should reach out to him and seek his support for the establishment of the CCJ. Given the many arguments in support of Jamaica joining the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, and being that the Opposition is not opposed to the CCJ as the country's final court, both should give consideration to having these bills passed during the life of this Parliament, and at a later date seek to put the question of deeply entrenching the court to the people. Like Williams, we believe that a referendum on matters relating to the judiciary is unwise, and thus this approach should be a last resort, if any at all.
It is time to move on with the business of completing Jamaica's circle of Independence. We have overstayed our welcome in Her Majesty's Privy Council.
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