(Trinidad Guardian) The reluctance of T&T to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) its final court of appeal is an embarrassment.
The statement was made by Chief Justice Ivor Archie as he addressed a special sitting of the court to commemorate the appointment of new CCJ President Adrian Saunders.
The ceremonial hearing was held at the CCJ’s headquarters at Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, on Saturday morning.
Archie said: “I consider it a continuing embarrassment that as the seat of the court we do not yet access its appellate jurisdiction.”
Archie’s comments were supported by almost all the speakers who proceeded him.
Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Fitzgerald Hinds also echoed that statement in his address on behalf of the Government.
“I have taken note of the expressions of embarrassment by the CJ and others and I too am embarrassed,” Hinds said as he claimed that his Government and political party has always supported this country’s ascension to the court.
In an interview after the ceremony, Hinds explained that while the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) had signed the initial treaty establishing the court in 2000, it has since repeatedly refused to support moves to replace the United Kingdom-based Privy Council with it.
“Once the Government changed 2001 there was a sudden turnaround and we have not been able to get their support since,” Hinds claimed as he pointed out that Opposition support was vital as such a change required a special majority of Parliament to be ratified.
In his speech, Law Association president Douglas Mendes, SC, who regularly appears at the CCJ in regional appeals, claimed that issues with ascension were also caused by misinformation on and misconceptions of the court.
Mendes said: “Contrary to the naysayers, this court has not been an instrument of the heads of Government.”
Of the 12 Caricom nations which signed the treaty, only Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica have made the move to have their criminal and civil appeals heard by the CCJ. The CCJ still has exclusive jurisdiction to hear all cases involving the interpretation of treaties dealing with Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) for all 12 signatory states.
Speaking with reporters after the event, Saunders, who is from St Vincent, admitted that he and his colleagues hoped that more countries would take the step.
“That is a political process though but there are things we can do in order to assist that process,” Saunders said as he admitted that more public information was needed.
“One of those things is providing more information on the court, on what it does and about the processes we undertake and some of the cases we do. People can get a greater sense of confidence about the court and about our ability to be a protector of the rights of people and to serve the Caribbean public in promoting the rule of law and defending democratic values,” Saunders said.
He also admitted that in the past education programmes only targeted bar associations and professional organisations.
“I think we need to spend more time engaging with people on a broader or grassroots level,” Saunders said. He suggested that the court was considering using social media and mass communication methods to get its message across.
Saunders admitted that there was misinformation in the public domain about the court’s independence and ability.
“The Court actually has produced far more judgements for the four countries that are on board in the appellate jurisdiction than the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has produced for the several other states that are still sending their final appeals to them,” he said.
Saunders said that the large case-load was possibly caused by the easy access to the court and fact the appeals to it are much cheaper for litigants.
Asked if the court could handle an even larger case-load when more countries agree to sign on, Saunders said yes as he pointed out that the CCJ has provisions for 10 judges, although it currently has seven.
“Because they send the most appeals to the Privy Council and given that we reside here, if Trinidad were to come on board there is every likelihood we would need another judge,” Saunders said.