We are in a new year and am certain before the end of December at least three more countries will abolish appeals to the Privy Council and accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final court of appeal. Others will soon follow.
The CCJ was established on February 12, 2001, and inaugurated on April 16, 2005, and so far only four countries ‒ Guyana, Barbados, Belize and Dominica ‒ have severed ties with the London based Privy Council, and despite several promises and commitments by other governments there is an inordinate delay in the others coming on board. However, recent developments lead me to believe that Jamaica, St Lucia, and Grenada will soon become full-fledged members of the regional court.
Jamaica with a population of more than 2.5 million has recently passed three pieces of legislation, paving the way for such a move, and its Foreign Affairs Minister, AJ Nicholson, said there was no turning back.
He told lawmakers that there is no need for a referendum to decide the issue. He said, “Let us tear down this referendum wall.” He disclosed that none of the 41 countries that left the Privy Council and established their own courts had gone the referendum route.
St Lucia’s Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, has always been an advocate for the regional court and so has Grenada Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, and now that a legal opinion has been issued by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court that a referendum is not required for those two countries to rid themselves from the Privy Council, moves have been made in this regard.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, and leader of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on constitutional reform for a bi-partisan approach. The MOU was signed in the presence of the President of the CCJ, Sir Denis Byron, who was Chief Justice of the ECSC.
The new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, is also in favour of the regional court since he questioned his predecessor, Kamla Persad Bissessar about why she only wanted to go half way ‒ abolishing appeals to the Privy Council in criminal matters alone.
Fourth term Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines is a strong advocate of the CCJ, but his attempt to join the court failed in a referendum. He might pursue it after he settles into his new term, and the St Kitts/ Nevis Prime Minister will also be encouraged to join.