T&T AG: Enough precedent in Commonwealth for Privy Council withdrawal

(Trinidad Express) There was ample precedent within the Commonwealth for a phased withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the Privy Council, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday. This was the path followed by countries such as Canada, Malaysia and Singapore who relinquished the criminal jurisdiction first and subsequently the civil jurisdiction. “Several countries did not sever the umbilical cord in one go but did it on a phased basis as we are doing, so there is ample precedent for the policy of the Government in this regard,” he said.

Ramlogan said the rumours and fears (expressed by former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj) that there would be stumbling blocks from the British side (ie that the British Government and judiciary would not accept the phased withdrawal) are mischevious and baseless.

“I have personally spoken with the British High Commissioner, His Excellency Arthur Snow and he has given the assurance that the Privy Council has always maintained that it operates on a voluntary principle and that the accessing of the Court’s jurisdiction is a matter for the discretion of the independent nations,” that are party to the court. He said there was no prospect of any diplomatic or political repercussions arising out of this policy decision by the Government.

On the comments made by former attorney general John Jeremie, Ramlogan said he noted that current President, Sir Dennis Byron in welcoming the Prime Minister’s announcement made no mention of any difficulty with such an approach. The Attorney General said similarly former president Michael De La Bastide made mention of no such obstacle. “But one must bear in mind that the treaty is a Caricom treaty and if it is that there is need for revision to accommodate a partial accessing of the Caribbean Court of Justice jurisdiction, one would hardly expect any resistance, as the court is presently under-utilised. And this is a favourable move towards fully operationalising the court in dispensing justice. Ramlogan said one had to bear in mind the important announcement made by Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson to signal Jamaica’s intention to access the CCJ as well,” he said.

He said the trend would seem to favour utilising a court that is well-funded, properly resourced, techologically advanced with an admirable cadre of judges who are internationally respected.

Asked whether constitutional motions arising out of matters relating to the application of the death penalty would still go to the Privy Council, Ramlogan said: “When I am drafting the bill, I will deal with that. But the intention is that all matters that emanate from the criminal side of the fence would go to the CCJ. And of course there are bound to be one or two permutations, but when we are drafting the bill, these would be taken care of. We would carefully carve and demarcate the jurisdictional boundaries.”

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