OUR CARIBBEAN: Hopeful development for the CCJ
The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, and his counterpart from Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, have been singing, at varying periods, from the same hymn sheet about the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
But their lyrics have offered no encouragement to those within the Caribbean Community who favour the CCJ as the region’s final court of appeal in place of the British Privy Council. If all goes well, there may yet be cause for hope for a likely change with Prime Minister Golding singing differently from another page.
In reporting on last Tuesday’s bipartisan approval by the House of Representatives of a new Charter of Rights Bill – which has been the subject of debate for some two decades – the Jamaica Observer noted that the government and parliamentary opposition “have set a June 30 deadline for reaching a consensus on the CCJ as Jamaica’s final appeal court”.
The optimistic view is that there may have been a “political understanding” that once the Charter of Rights Bill secures the required two-thirds majority – which would mean bipartisan support in the 60-member House of Representatives – a mood swing could occur to influence movement in favour of Jamaica cutting the inherited colonial link with the Privy Council in preference for the CCJ as its final appellate court.
Having been instrumental in laying the basis for the Charter of Rights Bill, the People’s National Party’s (PNP) leader Portia Simpson-Miller had no problems in ensuring bipartisan parliamentary support for the legislation.
Now that this has occurred, and since the PNP has at all times been in support of the CCJ, a “consensus” at the proposed June 30 meeting between Golding and Simpson-Miller could only mean that the Prime Minister and his government may be ready to access the regional court as Jamaica’s final appellate institution.
Such a development could also contribute to a change in mood in Trinidad and Tobago, where Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar continues to telegraph quite negative signals about her government’s preference to retain the Privy Council instead of accessing the CCJ, which is headquartered in Port-of-Spain.
The prevailing reality is that while prime ministers Golding and Persad-Bissessar continue to talk about the creation of a final national appeal court to replace access to the Privy Council, rather than embracing the CCJ as their court of last resort, both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are parties to the original jurisdiction of the regional court for settlement of trade disputes.
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago also contribute annually, approximately US$3.07 million and US$3.05 million, respectively, in debt payments for the CCJ, in accordance with obligations by all CARICOM participating partners in the CSME.
The Caribbean Development Bank had raised some US million to enable the operation of the CCJ.
The debt payment obligations are expected to end by 20I4.
A very relevant question is this: why would the governments in Kingston and Port-of-Spain wish to maintain payment commitment and adhere to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ in dispute settlements but be so anxious to show more faith in the Privy Council as their final appeal court?
The most recent statement by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar that her government was in no rush to end the relationship with the Privy Council as Trinidad and Tobago’s final appeal court is a sad commentary on the concept of sovereignty in a CARICOM country that, like Jamaica, has been independent from Britain since I962.