EDITORIAL: Kamla’s body blow to CCJ
Just over a week ago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar delivered a body blow to the future of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Her comments on that court and her country’s preference for the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is nothing less than that.
It is not simply that the court is headquartered in Trinidad, nor that her country, unlike Jamaica and Barbados, has severed links with the British monarchy by becoming a republic, but the precision and depth of her language had a certain fatality about it:
“We have seen many judgments overturned by the Privy Council . . . because there is that distance in a small nation, a small island, there could be contagion, especially in cases that deal with governmental action, administrative law cases, judicial review cases, the constitutional motions. You see them going up to the Privy Council . . . a totally different kind of outlook because there is no contagion.”
This extract is not only a slap-in-the-face rejection of the CCJ, but a potent endorsement of the Privy Council, based on what the learned prime minister refers to as “contagion” in cases of a constitutional nature. In most of such matters, the state is, naturally, involved!
Regional judges must be wondering why a reference to “many judgments overturned” should be cited as a reason for sticking with the Privy Council. What about the many cases in which the judges of the Privy Council have not only upheld local judgments, but have paid glowing tribute to the enlightened jurisprudential opinions of the regional judiciary.
And is it not true that in its short history, the CCJ has already demonstrated that its judgments are of as high an order as those of any final court banc of judges anywhere in the Commonwealth?
Who among our regional lawyers can read their judgments (as an example) in the Joseph & Boyce case without being impressed with the higher quality of their reasoning and findings on critical issues relating to the death penalty and interrelated issues of the applicability of international treaties and the emerging doctrine of legitimate expectation in death penalty cases?
In any language, and more so by a prime minister, the accusation of “contagion” is a very serious one, for if the Trinidad prime minister is correct, then all our regional courts, or at least the ones in Trinidad, might as well just shut up the shop and go home because however distinguished they may show themselves to be, the smear may attach.
This accusation adds fuel to the raging controversy in some quarters about the CCJ, and can also have the effect of undermining the integrity of that particular court.
Coming within weeks of a hint that Jamaica may be thinking of establishing its own final court of appeal, rather than accessing the CCJ; this statement has the potency to signal the death knell of the region’s final Court of Appeal. That would be a monumental tragedy!
For the second time in the 50 years this region would have suffered a massive catastrophe, but this time at the hands of some short-sighted leaders, who could not hide behind the excuses that led to the break-up of the short-lived Federation.