It seems that before the end of this year a few more countries will abolish appeals to the Privy Council and accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final court. Both the government and the opposition in Antigua and Barbuda have agreed to accept the CCJ as the final appellate court, but prefer the electorates to know more about the regional court before a referendum is held, and to this end a public education programme is organized for Thursday.
Several top legal personalities including President of the CCJ, Sir Denis Byron, Sir David Simmons, former Chief Justice of Barbados, Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Roque, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, will be among the resource persons at Thursday’s seminar which will be held at St Johns, the capital.
So far only four countries, Guyana, Barbados, Belize, and Dominica have removed the Privy Council and accepted the CCJ as the final court, although the regional institution was inaugurated since April 2005 after 35 years of gestation. The idea of establishing the court was initiated by the Organization of the Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association and in 1970 the Heads of Government of Caricom accepted the idea and slowly established the court. It is disappointing that Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago which were in the forefront are not yet members.
I am optimistic nevertheless that the new Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government will move swiftly to join, since its former leader, Edward Seaga, was one of the pioneers of the court, and that country is contributing the most financially ‒ 27% ‒ because of its large population. Keith Rowley when he was opposition leader of the twin island republic, was fully supportive of the institution. In fact, he questioned his predecessor, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, about considering the abolition of only civil appeals to the London based Privy Council.
St Lucia’s Prime Minister Kenny Anthony is a strong supporter of the CCJ and he is taking steps for his country to join. His counterpart in St Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, is well known for his regionalism, and he is in collaboration with Anthony to join. Five years ago, a referendum was defeated because in my view besides the mandate for the CCJ, it was loaded with other controversial issues including the removal of the Queen as head of state, and replacing her with an executive president.
St Kitts/Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica effectively have identical constitutional provisions that obviate the need for a referendum if the measure to delink from the Privy Council passes through parliament with a 2/3 majority and the agreement of the United Kingdom is obtained.
The Dominican government has a 2/3 parliamentary majority and joined the CCJ without a referendum.