Justice, truth be ours forever
In Gordon House, debate has begun on a motion to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final court of appeal, replacing the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, and there are many issues involved. There needs to be fulsome rational debate on these issues.
But I fear that this will not happen. The Opposition says that it is against replacing the UK Privy Council with the CCJ; and the Government believes that all that is required to remove the UK Privy Council is a simple parliamentary majority in both Houses, which they have, since the section to be struck down is not an entrenched clause in the Jamaican Constitution.
The handwriting seems to be on the wall. It looks like there will be a cursory debate, followed by a vote for removal, which the parliamentary whip of the governing People's National Party (PNP) will ensure is passed. Will this be a good thing?
Striking down the UK Privy Council is one thing, but even the Government agrees that establishing the CCJ as Jamaica's final court of appeal (or any other court, for that matter) does require a two-thirds majority in both Houses - which the PNP does not have, at least in the Senate. The Opposition must cooperate with the Government for a new court to be established, but the Opposition has declared up front that it will not support such a move. I fear that what will happen is that the Government will use its simple majority to abolish appeals to the UK Privy Council, and then the stalemate in the Senate will leave us without a replacement.
Why the indecent haste to establish the CCJ as Jamaica's highest and final court of appeal? I am not sure that the Government has been, or will be, transparent and fully truthful.
What we are being fed is emotional and jingoistic claptrap! The prime minister and the minister of justice tell us that they want to remove the last vestige of British colonialism from the Jamaican landscape. But then, why do they still insist on British honorific titles? If the interest is to remove the last vestige of British colonialism from the Jamaican landscape, should not these honorific titles have been removed long ago? Not to mention addressing the mayor as 'our Worship'.
The UK Privy Council has served us well as our final and highest court of appeal. Surely, the principal issue is whether the CCJ will be as good or better at delivering justice as the UK Privy Council?
Justice is a funny thing; it must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done - manifestly. Confidence has a lot to do with it.
If people are suing the Government, they wish to know that the very people they are suing did not appoint the judges who will try the case. Judges in Jamaica are appointed by the Judicial Services Commission, which is appointed by the governor general on the advice of the political directorate; the governor general himself is appointed by the prime minister.
Jamaicans largely trust the local judiciary, despite the thin layers of insulation between politicians and the appointment of judges. But should there be bias, there is always the Privy Council. The Jamaican Government has absolutely nothing to do with appointing the judges who sit on the Privy Council. The very distance from Jamaica which the Government cites as a disadvantage of the UK Privy Council is one of its greatest advantages.
Appointment of Judges
Are the judges who sit on the CCJ similarly insulated from governmental and political interference? Who appoints the judges who sit on the CCJ? Who appoints the president of the CCJ?
The president of the CCJ is politically appointed - directly by all the prime ministers in CARICOM acting together. The CCJ president then chairs a Regional Judicial Services Commission, which appoints all the other judges; the appointment of the CCJ judges other than the CCJ president is insulated from political interference - probably more so than for any other court in the world; but the appointment of the CCJ president is political.
In the end, it all boils down to confidence and trust. We do not trust our politicians, and the indecent haste to establish the CCJ as Jamaica's highest and final court of appeal is suspicious. What are they up to?
Our national anthem prays that 'Justice, truth be ours forever'. This move to force through the CCJ as our final court of appeal must be resisted forcibly by those who wish Jamaica well.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.