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EDITORIAL: Not a fun question on CCJ’s access

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Not a fun question on CCJ’s access

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In a significant development last week, the head of state of Trinidad and Tobago, President George Maxwell, came out in favour of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) becoming that country’s final appellate institution to replace the British Privy Council.
This is the first time since the official inauguration of the CCJ in April 2005 that a head of state in CARICOM has ventured publicly into this sensitive judicial/political matter.
Maxwell chose the occasion of the CCJ’s “strategic planning session” last Tuesday in Port of Spain to raise the issue, asking “if we are still in mammy’s house”.
It would not have escaped attention that among the prominent invitees and participants at the event organized by the CCJ, which is headquartered in Port of Spain, was the country’s Chief Justice Ivor Archie, who over a year ago surprised many with his own public statement in favour of Trinidad and Tobago accessing the regional court as its final appellate institution.
In the circumstances, President Maxwell’s indirect intervention with his borrowed “mammy’s house” reference would seem all the more intriguing for those who are aware of the short-lived political uneasiness that surfaced in Port of Spain over Chief Justice Archie’s open support for the CCJ; especially since he was aware at the time that the current People’s Partnership government had declared its intention to consider the establishment of the country’s own final appeal court.
With Britain, the former colonizing power, seeking to discourage access to the Privy Council by Commonwealth member states – which continue to engage the law lords with appeals of mostly death penalty cases – CARICOM governments should now be giving more focused attention on making the CCJ both their court of original jurisdiction in the settlement of trade disputes, as well as the final appellate institution.
Almost six years after its inauguration, only three CARICOM countries have the CCJ as their final appellate court – Barbados, Guyana and Belize.
This surprise becomes even greater when it is realized that all participating member states are signatory to an agreement under which they are bound to honour annual budgetary contributions to the CCJ, consistent with the terms of a US$100 million loan secured on the international monetary market by the Caribbean Development Bank to make the regional court operational.
It, therefore, seems fair to ask: how much longer are the CARICOM countries that cling to the Privy Council prepared to remain in “mammy’s house”? This should not be dismissed as just a fun question. Rather, it is an issue that has much to do with our concept of sovereignty and development of West Indian jurisprudence.