Several leading legal luminaries and politicians have called for the replacement of the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice. Michael de la Bastide has ended his tenure as President of the court and is appealing to Caribbean countries to sign the treaty making the CCJ their final court of appeal. An editorial in SN (March 30) also appealed to Caribbean states to accept the CCJ because as a region we should have our own institutions.
But shouldn’t the people have a say on these major undertakings like Caricom, CCJ, etc? I agree with those who say the Europeans have their own regional parliament, court, bank, etc, and since we have a regional body called Caricom it makes sense for our region to also have other institutions to tie us more closely. But there is at least one major difference between regional integration in Europe and that in the Caribbean. In Europe, the countries allowed their people to vote on whether they wished to join the union and accept the European court. In the Carib-bean, no country allowed its people a voice on whether they should be a part of Caricom or the CCJ. No country held a referendum asking the people to subject themselves to the Caricom treaty. And of the few that signed the CCJ treaty, none of them held a vote asking the people whether they preferred it over the Privy Council as the final court of appeal. Readers are reminded that Forbes Burnham rigged the 1968 elections and used his magic majority to end ties with the PC.
What we have in the Caribbean is the elite making decisions on behalf of the population.
Since we consider our nations democracies, let us hold a vote on major decisions like breaking from colonial rule, and forming a regional body, and accepting the decisions of the CCJ. Today, colonial rulers are holding votes in their colonies on independence begging their subjects to vote for breaking away from them. But the voters are rejecting independence and the limited ties they have with the masters.
A vote should be held in the Caribbean and a minimum threshold should be set on what is accepted for adoption on major undertakings that change governance. It is understandable that an independent nation will not want to hold a vote on whether it should return to colonial rule; such a vote will see most former colonies returning to their former masters having lost confidence in their local rulers. And it will be difficult to hold a vote on whether a nation, already a member, should remain in Caricom although such a vote may return a huge ‘no.’ But since there are repeated calls for nations to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ, the nations should hold a vote to choose between the two and whichever wins should be accepted and enforced. The elites and rulers who support the CCJ can campaign for it.
People don’t have faith in the CCJ. Barbados, Belize and Guyana have signed the treaty accepting the CCJ as the final court of appeal after approval by their parliaments, not popular support in a national vote. Let these countries hold a referendum on the CCJ and they will be shocked at the result. National opinion in every territory is against the CCJ. People lack faith and confidence in it. That is the primary reason why rulers and the elite are against a vote throughout the region. Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said last year she would allow a referendum on the CCJ. That is not even being thought of today because the PM knows people don’t even want to come close to the building hosting the CCJ, much less accept it to
replace the PC. People everywhere feel they get fairer justice from England than from the Caribbean. If one examines rulings from the highest courts in the region and appeals to the PC, the law lords overturned a number of them.