EDITORIAL – Ramphal’s warning on CCJ’s access
SIR SHRIDATH RAMPHAL, known for his reputation as a distinguished “Caribbean man”, last week revisited an issue of deep concern to citizens of our Caribbean Community who remain perplexed by the failure of the great majority of CARICOM states to access the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final appellate institution, instead of holding on to the Privy Council in London.
Delivering the inaugural Jurist Lecture of the Trinidad and Tobago Judicial Education Institute last Thursday, Sir Shridath urged governments to put their “legal houses in order” and to act in “a mature and creative way” to have the CCJ as their court of last resort, and not prolong a colonial dependence on the Privy Council.
Since its establishment in April 2005, with headquarters in Port-of-Spain and with both appellate and original jurisdiction, only three of the dozen CARICOM states expected to access the CCJ as their final appeal court have done so – Barbados and Guyana at the outset and, more recently, Belize.
Of the 15 countries comprising membership of CARICOM, Montserrat remains a colony of Britain and, in relation to both Haiti and Suriname, their judicial systems vary from the rest of the independent Community partners.
Many of the CARICOM states have signed on to the CCJ’s original jurisdiction that deals with trade and other disputes under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
However, while all signatories to its appellate and original jurisdiction continue to pay their subsidies to the regional court – consistent with an agreement reached with the Caribbean Development Bank that had raised about US$100 million for its inauguration – just Barbados, Guyana and Belize have cut the proverbial apron string with the Privy Council.
In the Time For Action report of 1992 from the 15-member West Indian Commission that was headed by Sir Shridath, one of the major recommendations was for the creation
of what was then styled a “CARICOM Supreme Court” as a final court of appeal. The commissioners pointed to their own awareness that it was a matter of regional importance that had been previously debated for two decades.
The recurring question of the bewildered among us is: for how much longer must the rest of the independent CARICOM states, other than Haiti and Suriname, continue to maintain a colonial preference for accessing the Privy Council in London instead of the CCJ, to which they make annual subsidies?
Sir Shridath was quite candid in observing that as a new president of the CCJ (Sir Dennis Byron) ushered in a new era in the court’s history, it was time for this region to “put its legal house in order”. He has warned that “our reputation as an enlightened region of the common law requires no less, and would not be sustainable without it”.