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Belize’s faith in CCJ is valued


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All right-thinking Caribbean people will be especially pleased to have read the announcement earlier this week that Belize will become a member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the not-too-distant future. Belize will be the third Caribbean territory accepting the jurisdiction of the court as its final Court of Appeal, and one anticipates that this fillip to the total acceptance of the court will bear fruit, and that very soon every one of the region’s territories will cease to take their appeals to the Privy Council in London.We have previously commented on the need for the acceptance of the CCJ, but the matter has become more pressing in the light of comments by several of the distinguished law lords who serve as members of the Appellate Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. One learned law lord remarked on the fact that about 40 per cent of their time was taken up with appeals from the former Commonwealth. This is a major cost  not borne by the former colonies, but cost, though important, is not the major consideration in issue. Rather there are greater and more philosophically rooted reasons for demitting the jurisdiction and signing on to the Caribbean Court of Justice.Lord Hoffman, a retired law lord who sat on many appeals from this region, has often spoken about  the need for local judges in their several jurisdictions to decide local cases against the background of the conditions applicable in those jurisdictions. He has on more than one occasion opined that local judges are better able to understand the nuances of the social realities of these islands, and are therefore in a better position to apply the law in that local context. We agree with the reasoning of Lord Hoffman, and others who share his views. Law is not a stagnant discipline. It lives or ought to live since all societies change  and the interpretation of a law in 1966 may have to be reconsidered in 2010, if the law is to serve the needs of the society and not hang like an albatross around the neck of the society. Current thought, for example, abhors the institutions of slavery, but in much earlier times, it was supported by the full weight of the law.The argument that local courts and judges are in a better position is the more cogently made when one considers the nature of our constitutions, and the duty of the courts to interpret the human rights provisions in those constitutions. To take an example from this weeks Court Pages, yet another instance  has arisen of a person spending six years on remand before being brought to trial. A local judge faced with determining if such a lapse of time is reasonable will better answer that question against his experience of the local economic and social conditions.His counterpart 4 000 miles away in a different social environment might be inclined to apply an interpretation valid for his environment, but totally unsuited  to our local reality. Such dislocation may also adversely affect rulings in other than criminal matters, and injustices may therefore be innocently visited upon one or more parties.We therefore urge Jamaica and Trinidad, in particular as two of the larger and more commercially developed islands, to urgently consider their positions  and to put the processes in place that would recognise the CCJ as the final Appellate Court for their citizens.The Privy Council has done a remarkable job for the region in times past, but just as we now train our own lawyers, we now need to step up the task of persuading all our regional counterparts to follow the example of Belize . . . .To complete what one learned commentator called the “cycle of independence”, by demonstrating faith in our own courts and judges to be the final arbiters in our legal system.