OUR CARIBBEAN: Independent but tied to Privy Council
AS THE first two CARICOM member states to part company with British colonial rule within weeks of each other back in August 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago continue to reveal similarities that are to be deeply regretted. Hopefully, this will cease to be the case when they celebrate their 55th anniversary of independence a year from today.
The similarities for both of these most populous and economically diversified states of the Caribbean Community’s English-speaking members are quite disappointing.
To begin with, it is disappointing to have to contend with their prevailing depressing rates of gun-related murders, robberies and other acts of criminality in any one week, with children now being among the slaughtered victims.
Secondly, in an area that has nothing to do with national security challenges – the honouring of financial commitments or the availability of qualified personnel – they continue to share the bewildering failure to access the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the court of last resort instead of Britain’s London-based Privy Council.
As noted in a previous commentary on the original vision of CARICOM leaders to establish the CCJ as our region’s court of last resort, neither Jamaica nor Trinidad and Tobago has any shortage when it comes to the availability of qualified and experienced legal luminaries to get involved in any case referred for the attention of the CCJ.
Equally relevant, there have been no known queries about the professional competence or integrity of any of the judges serving with the CCJ.
Hence, a pertinent question: If it is not a case of failure to shed a stultifying colonial mentality to retain Britain’s Privy Council as their court of last resort, then why the continuing failure/refusal by Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to access the CCJ, as others are currently doing?
Following its formal inauguration in 2005 in Port of Spain, Barbados and Guyana became the first two Caricom states to access the CCJ as their court of last resort.
Encouragingly, Belize and Dominica have since followed and currently the Grenada government of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has decided to also move in that direction.
In contrast, and to their political shame, neither of the first two Caricom partner states to shed their colonial links with Britain – Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – has moved in that direction.
In Port of Spain, nothing has changed under the successive administrations of both the United National Congress (UNC) and the People’s National Movement (PNM), the latter currently under the leadership of Prime Minister Keith Rowley.
It could well be to the shame of both governing parties and their respective leaders not to reflect on the apparent arrogance in having the CCJ headquartered in Port of Spain, but yet fail to offer a single initiative that points to planned access of the regional court as Trinidad and Tobago’s appellate institution of last resort.
In Jamaica, the political scenario is evidently worse. In a Caricom state whose cultural and athletic icons have done so much to spread what’s endearingly creative about this region that bridges the “two Americas”, the current governing Jamaica Labour Party, like its predecessor, the People’s National Party, seems rather disinterested in moving to end prevailing monarchical rule in favour of republican status with a Jamaican monarch as head of state.
It seems that if Trinidad and Tobago could further delay recognition of the CCJ as its court of last resort, then Jamaica perhaps feels it could rationalise its lingering colonial relationship with Britain’s monarchical system of governance.
What a sad commentary on the country’s prevailing political leadership.
Meanwhile Barbados, once unflatteringly deemed “Little England” in the anglophone Caribbean, is currently engaged in various celebratory activities focused on its first half-century of political independence from Britain.
What, however, remains strangely surprising is the official public silence on plans to transform the governance system from current British monarchical rule to that of a constitutional republic – like Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana as well as the comparatively little “Republic of the Commonwealth of Dominica”.
I join in extending the best of wishes to all daughters and sons of Trinidad and Tobago – where I once lived and worked – now celebrating its 54th independence birthday.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.