(Trinidad Express) A historic move was made yesterday by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as she announced that legislation will be brought to the Parliament to remove the British Privy Council as this country’s final appellate court and replaced with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)—with respect to criminal matters. Civil matters will still go before the Privy Council.
In delivering the statement at the Parliament sitting, Persad-Bissessar said earlier yesterday she advised Chief Justice Ivor Archie, the Acting Chief Justice Wendell Kangaloo; the president to the Law Association, Dana Seetahal, and the Criminal Bar Association, Pamela Elder of this decision.
Persad-Bissessar disclosed that this move comes on the heels of a recently concluded Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Suriname where this matter was discussed by several Caricom heads and where she gave her commitment to approach the issue on her return home.
“Having undertaken such a review, and consistent with our approach of caution and gradualism, I am pleased to announce that the Government will be bringing legislation to this Honourable House to secure the abolition of appeals to Privy Council in all criminal matters so that this jurisdiction would then be ceded to the Caribbean Court of Justice,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“As a measure of our growing confidence in the CCJ, and as a mature and leading world democracy, in this year of our 50th independence anniversary, we will table legislation acceding to the criminal appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ, in very much the same way as other countries have similar to Hong Kong prior to the transfer of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China in 1979 and Singapore in 1989. There is ample precedent for such a phased withdrawal from the jurisdiction of Her Majesty’s Privy Council,” said Persad-Bissessar.
The Prime Minister noted that there has been “critical observation” from commentators, jurists and institutions on this country’s relationship with the Privy Council.
“The prevailing and sustained analysis has suggested that the jurisdiction of JCPC (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council) in relation to criminal appeals is a matter of grave concern as it affects the dispensation of criminal justice at a time of high crime in our country,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar added that ties to the Privy Council developed complications in particular with respect to the issue of the death penalty.
“The situation has been complicated by the issue of the death penalty on which the Privy Council, reflecting contemporary English (and EU) mores and jurisprudence has been rigorous in upholding Caribbean appeals in death sentence cases,” she noted.
She said the time was ripe as our democracy has grown in strength “to take responsibility ourselves for the final adjudication of our disputes consonant with the pristine principles of justice and fair play and say good-bye to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as our final Court of Appeal,”.
This measure, said Persad-Bissessar, will require a special majority vote of the Parliament and she looked forward to support “for this historic withdrawal from the criminal jurisdiction of the JCPC,”.
She said Government will continue to monitor developments both at the JCPC and the CCJ, including the quality of their decisions in deciding the future course of our judicial system.
The Prime Minister noted that it was former prime minister Basdeo Panday who made the first move in 1999 when he announced that his Government would provide a site to house the CCJ.
Although the CCJ headquarters was inaugurated in this country in 2005, Trinidad and Tobago still held on to the Privy Council as its final appellate court.
Now, just over a decade later the move will be made to join other Caribbean neighbours in making the CCJ the final appellate court.
Persad-Bissessar, an attorney, who was recently awarded ‘silk”- senior counsel status said “On personal note, Mr Speaker as a graduate of both the renowned faculty of law of the University of the West Indies and the prestigious Hugh Wooding Law School, it gives me immeasurable pride as Head of Government to usher in this new dawn in the legal history our great nation, Trinidad and Tobago”.