Justice Adrian Saunders (FILE)
NEW YORK – President of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, Adrian Saunders says more still needs to be done to educate the regional public about the role of the court that was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the Caribbean final court.
“I’m not worried about the referendum results in Antigua and Grenada. But what it tells us, we need more educational work,” Justice Saunders said as he delivered the Maxwell Haywood Memorial Lecture Friday night at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.
Voters in both countries on November 6 rejected the move to replace the CCJ with the Privy Council. In the case of Grenada it was the second rejection within a two year period of the CCJ that functions also as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement, CARICOM.
Haywood, a Brooklyn-based Vincentian community activist, died a year ago after a short battle with cancer. He was also the chairman of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, Inc.
Justice Saunders, the third Caribbean national to head the CCJ, questioned who in the region would be responsible for educating the public on the role of the court, adding “so, if we’re going to advance, we need to know how we’re going to make our country more independent”.
Speaking on the topic The Role and Importance of the CCJ in advancing the Caribbean Civilisation, the Vincentian-born Justice Saunders pointed to what he said were two principal reasons for the defeat of the referendum in Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda.
“Firstly, it is a fact that people have unhappy experiences with their local justice systems. If the court is held in a less than adequate courthouse; if the courtroom is stiflingly hot; if the case is adjourned again and again and again; if a murder accused spends 10 years on remand before his case is heard; then the idea of replacing a British institution (Privy Council) with a Caribbean one is instinctively unappealing.”
But Justice Saunders said “that’s where the second reason kicks in,” stressing “we have not done enough to inform and educate people about the CCJ”.
“In Antigua, those who led the ‘no’ vote claimed that we were a shiny new attic on a termite ridden house. That analogy is specious. Firstly, the CCJ is not an organic part of the local justice system. The CCJ is a separate house.
“And not only are there no termites in this house, but we are organised in such a way as to help get rid of any termites that might exist elsewhere,” he added.
Justice Saunders, who assumed the presidency of the CCJ in July this year, said a Caribbean Court, staffed with the best Caribbean judges, “is able to give greater effect to our aspirations as a people”.
He said that, for the last 13 years, the CCJ has been “dispensing justice for Barbados and Guyana to the satisfaction of the peoples of those countries”.
He said that when former Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made what he described as “uncomplimentary statements” about the CCJ in the lead up to the last general elections in his country earlier this year, “he was roundly condemned by the ordinary man and woman of Barbados”.
“The CCJ is more than capable of handling the region’s appeals,” said Justice Saunders, adding: “If we are to advance as a people, politics and political tussles are important for a healthy democracy.
“But there are eternal core human values that are overarching – truth, compassion, cooperation, caring, courtesy, empathy, hard honest labour. “These are values opposition and government alike, and, indeed, all the people, must promote.”
But Justice Saunders said there is another value, which he said is paramount – “one that is vital for us in the Caribbean with our fractured experiences of slavery and colonialism.
“That other value is self-belief; a clear sense of ourselves; an understanding of our worth as human beings; an appreciation that we are not inferior to anyone, and that we have the capacity to forge our own destiny.”
The prominent Caribbean jurist said a major step forward in self-reliance came when the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) established the CCJ in 2003.
He said the CCJ is “two courts in one: It is a CARICOM treaty court, like the European Court of Justice, and it is a final court of appeal, like the US Supreme Court, or like the British Privy Council”.
Justice Saunders said if all CARICOM nations make the CCJ their final court of appeals, “We’ll be doing a great service to our children and our children’s children”. (CMC)