Tue | Mar 28, 2017

Restructuring of CCJ must be subject to public scrutiny

Published:Monday | July 28, 2014 | 7:00 AM

Leighton Jackson, Guest Columnist

As an advocate, it is the worst mistake that can be made to expect that the other party will either agree with you or lie down and play dead, especially if they have much to lose. Expect that they will mount a rigorous defence and even offence.

Scepticism is the hallmark of efficient and accurate conclusions. It makes for better decision. This is why I urge that the present dismantling and restructuring of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) be the subject of public scrutiny and debate.

The World Bank defines good governance as:

1. Governance by rule: Decision-makers decide, not pursuant to the decision-maker's intuition or passing fancy, but according to agreed-upon norms grounded in reason and experience.

2. Accountability: Decision-makers justify their decisions publicly, subjecting their decision to review by recognised higher authority and, ultimately, by the electorate.

3. Transparency: Officials conduct government business openly so that the public, and particularly the press, can learn about and debate its details.

4. Participation: Persons affected by potential decisions - the stakeholder - have the maximum feasible opportunity to make inputs and otherwise take part in governmental decisions.

Before this story was made known, none of the stakeholders, and certainly not the press or Caribbean citizens, were aware that there was a dismantling and restructuring of the CCJ going on.

This is not GraceKennedy or a privately held company; this is government. But even GraceKennedy, as a publicly held company, is subject to good corporate governance, which means that its shareholders must be made aware of significant changes and approve. Only when it is your private domain that you can do as you please.

opportunity for the public

Therefore, this is a wonderful opportunity for the public to look at the structure of the CCJ that is being recommended to them and internal institutional power distribution that makes for the functioning of the institution, especially with regard to judicial independence.

Let me be quite clear. I am not at all personally invested in what the ultimate outcome might be. I was only a temporary 'outsider' at the CCJ with the ability to view the operations with an objective eye. There was always the intention of returning to what I enjoy - teaching.

But I am interested in the process and procedure - that is actually what registrars do.

As a Caribbean citizen and an academic lawyer, I am interested in good governance as defined above, paying special attention to the highlighted words. This is the only tried and true methodology of democratic governance that averts despotic rule, respect for human rights, and ensures the involvement of all the citizens in the creation of the institutional framework for development.

I am aware that our history of slavery, indentured servitude and colonialism has put us in a dysfunctional relationship with power, not only the ruled but also our rulers.

Good intentions and honourable motives do not replace the rule of law, accountability, transparency and participation as the key road to good governance.

I, like most persons, do not like to be in the spotlight or have my name bandied about. I have avoided it for most of my life. Indeed, I tried to leave the CCJ in January when I realise that I am in moral opposition to the process and the issues that were taking place, but was convinced to return.

ignite the debate

However, at some point one must speak out, not to say one is right, but to ignite the debate that will return us to looking closely at the structures and the methodology of this important institution.

As a lawyer, and a law lecturer, I should caution the editor that a conclusion cannot be based solely on the status of an individual, however eminent. That is a fatal mistake. It also excludes from participation and debate the ordinary citizen who cannot lay claim to such recognition.

We need evidence, objective evidence, and I am happy that The Gleaner has, in fact, called for objective proof, despite its seeming call for reliance on the reputation of Dr Lloyd Barnett, one that is truly earned.

We are on the right track at last to expose this restructuring to public scrutiny and to insist on good governance in our institutions.

Let us see what the promised statements from the president of the court and the commission are and if they will provide the proof. The citizens of the Caribbean, the ultimate arbiters, will decide.

We should withhold judgement as to whether the case is 'unconvincing' until all the evidence is in.

Leighton Jackson is a law lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and leightonjackson@gmail.com.