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The CCJ as Jamaica’s final appellate court

Published:Wednesday | October 14, 2015 | 9:02 AM

We have observed the ongoing debate and process by our legislature as regards the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final appellate court. We note that three bills were recently passed in the House of Representatives. The matter will shortly be put before the Jamaican Senate for deliberation by that body.

We feel it is important at this juncture of our national development to raise our collective influence and voices to support the process by which the CCJ will become Jamaica's final appellate court. Our respective entities have had various consultations either within the respective membership/constituents of each entity, successive Jamaican governments and other organisations in Jamaica/regionally as regards the CCJ.

We support the CCJ becoming Jamaica's final appellate court for the following reasons:

1. The consultation process with all stakeholders, civil society and Jamaicans has been ongoing since 1991. The debate and consultation has been long and robust. We have seen changes to the CCJ as originally structured that will better secure its independence and ability to provide justice.

2. The CCJ and its various support mechanisms and entities are now well structured to ensure and maintain the independence of the Judiciary, to attract the finest legal minds and to insulate them from political or other interference (through the mechanisms of the Regional Judicial Services Commission) and to be adequately and securely funded (through the mechanisms of the Board of Trustees responsible for administering and preserving the funds used to ensure that the CCJ is properly and securely funded).

3. The CCJ has been in operation for 10 years. While a comparatively young Court, it comprises judges of vast legal experience not only in the region but internationally. The various judgments coming out of the CCJ are sound, well-reasoned and are comparable to those issued by other final appellate courts (including the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council).

4. Access to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is simply not available for the vast majority of CARICOM nationals. It is clear that while the United Kingdom Supreme Court (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council) has been an excellent final appellate court and its Law Lords have for decades provided sound Judgments, we are concerned about the ability of parties from this region to access that court not only because of the cost of travelling to and staying in London but the concomitant necessity for many CARICOM nationals to obtain a visa at prohibitive costs (to parties and their attorneys-at-law). These prohibitive factors impact adversely on the right of a party to be present before the hearing, if the party so chooses. Many are left to comment that appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are either for the "well-heeled" or "convicted criminals at the mercy of pro bono attorneys".

5. The CCJ is already established and paid for. No further investment is required. At this juncture Jamaica cannot afford to establish its own final appellate court and it is wasteful of our limited resources to allocate same to establish a Jamaican final appellate court. Simply put, there are insufficient resources to do so. It is our view that Jamaica's resources allocated to the justice system are insufficient and need to be spent on improving our other courts as well as improving access to justice for all Jamaicans.

6. As regards the need for a political referendum, while we acknowledge that it is always important for the Government of Jamaica to continue dialogue with the Jamaican people and civil society groups and NGOs as regards the justice system and improving same, we must remember that this dialogue on the CCJ has been ongoing since 1991 and has been exhaustively analysed. The CCJ is established and performing. The process of establishing the CCJ as our final appellate court does not require a referendum, and the vast majority of other countries that have moved away from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council did not require a referendum. In fact only one CARICOM state required a referendum, as their constitution requires it to remove the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Further, we strongly feel that subjecting the CCJ to a political referendum and the vagaries of our adversarial political system will impact on the dignity of the court, which may serve to put the court into disrepute.

7. Finally, and importantly, we call upon our lawmakers to take a considered approach to this important issue and to support the CCJ as Jamaica's final appellate court. We make it clear that we are not taking 'political sides' and do not intend to be embroiled in a 'political tug-of-war'. Our support for the CCJ is based on a considered examination of the CCJ which is well established, financed and ready to work in the interest of dispensing justice in a fair and unbiased manner for all those seeking justice before the CCJ.