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CCJ CLASH - House to vote on thorny issue on April 28

Published:Wednesday | January 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

ALL 63 members of parliament will cast a critical vote on April 28 - the three-month period given to legislators to support or reject the three bills to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Jamaica's final appellate court.

The bills, which require constitutional amendments, allow for a three-month period after the end of the parliamentary debate before lawmakers are asked to cast their vote on the proposed laws that concern or relate to fundamental rights under the Jamaican Constitution.

Yesterday, legislators from both sides of the House made closing arguments on the three bills following several weeks of debate on the proposed statutes.

Members of the ruling party stuck to their entrenched position in support of the proposed laws, while the Opposition made a case for a final appellate court in Jamaica.

In closing the debate in Gordon House yesterday, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller dismissed as impractical the suggestion by the Opposition for Jamaica to have a local final court of appeal at this time.

"Let me say that any member of this House who is not prepared to record his or her positive vote in favour of these bills is not acting in the best interest of the people of Jamaica," Simpson Miller said.

She contended that the bills should receive support from lawmakers unless the procedure being used in introducing the bills was unconstitutional. Further, she said the bills were expected to be supported, unless their policies and aims were harmful to the Jamaican people.

The prime minister said lawmakers should give their full support unless there was something immoral or unethical about the policy and aims of the bill.

In reference to the historic April 28 vote, Simpson Miller said: "This is three months in which to place ourselves on the right side of history, or to be condemned to the dust heap of history concerning this matter."

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness said he had not planned to participate in the debate, but argued that he had to set the record straight concerning his party's position on the issue.

"I want Jamaica to understand that Andrew Holness, a Jamaican nationalist, is not saying that we must be with the Privy Council in perpetuity. That is not our position," he declared.

In relation to Caribbean and Jamaican jurisprudence, Holness said his party does not join any criticisms against the quality of the persons serving in the justice system.

"We don't join any such criticisms. We believe in our local jurists and our local jurisprudence."

According to Holness, the 40 former colonies that have left the United Kingdom-based Privy Council, except for Guyana, Barbados and Belize, have all established their own final court of appeal.

"If you are going to look to what has happened to other countries in the past who have left the Privy Council, then clearly the weight of history is that if we leave, we should establish our own court," he reasoned.

Holness also questioned whether a simple majority or two-thirds majority in Parliament could establish an appellate court that protects it under the Constitution.

LEGAL QUESTIONS

He said the bills do not address the principle of legal certainty.

"When you establish a court here and that court goes to review a decision of the appeal court, there must be no question as to whether or not that court was rightfully established. Right now, these bills don't answer that," he charged.

He warned that if these bills were passed, the appellate court could be brought before the Constitutional Court to determine whether the former was rightfully established.

He said the Gun Court was established on a similar platform and was taken to court and the court ruled that the manner in which it was set up was unconstitutional.

Holness urged the Government to establish the final court of appeal correctly.

"My greatest fear is that we go to establish a court on which there is a political divide."

He accused the Government of using the CCJ bills as a distraction from the real issues facing the country.

"I don't hear Jamaicans saying that we need the CCJ."

The bills require a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament to secure their passage. The Government has the votes with a 2:1 ratio in the Lower House, but will require an opposition member to split from the pack in the Senate.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com

The three bills

1) An act to make provision for the implementation of the agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice and for connected matters.

2) An act to amend the Constitution of Jamaica to provide for the replacement of appeals to Her Majesty in Council with new provisions for appeals to the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica's final appellate court, and for connected matters.

3) An Act to amend the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) Act.