Antigua and Grenada set for referendum on CCJ

Dear Editor,

Antigua and Barbuda, and Grenada are to hold referenda on the same day – November 6 – to decide whether or not to accept the Caribbean Court of Appeal (CCJ) as their final court.

It will be first time that Antigua and Barbuda will ask the electorate to decide on the issue. 

Grenadians rejected the move two years ago, but this time, the voters will only decide on the Court and not on other issues, as they did in 2016, including the controversial issue of the removal of the Queen as the Head of State.

It baffles me that why countries are reluctant to join when there are so many benefits to be gained from the regional court as opposed to the London-based Privy Council. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were in the forefront of the CCJ before its establishment and up to this day they are still tied to the apron string of the UK, although both of these countries gained independence in 1962 – 56 long years ago.

 I recall Oswald Harding, the Attorney General of Jamaica, under the JLP/Edward Seaga Administration, was jetting around the region whipping up support for the court, and so was Selwyn Richardson, now deceased, lobbying for the twin island republic. In fact, because of Trinidad and Tobago’s strong support for the Court, Port of Spain was chosen as the venue for its headquarters. 

Guyanese born diplomat/commentator, Sir Ron Sanders in last column strongly supported the court and made a few important points. He said civil appeals outnumbered criminal appeals by almost seven to one, and about 15 percent of those filed in the CCJ were from persons too poor to pay filing costs which the court waived, thus, giving poor people unprecedented access to appeals. Sir Ron also pointed out that a study found that the cost of an appeal with the Privy Council is five times greater than filing with the CCJ, whilst noting the important point about litigation costs – fees for Barristers and Solicitors, He estimated that the minimum cost of a lawyer is US$65,000, not to mention travelling costs and hotel accommodation in the UK. He also stated that the CCJ sometimes makes arrangements to sit outside its Port of

Spain Headquarters, and there are facilities for video conferences, thus eliminating the cost for lawyers’ travel and accommodation.

The CCJ was inaugurated in April 2005, and it is unfortunate that only four countries, Guyana, Barbados, Belize and Dominica have accepted the Appellate Jurisdiction of the Court. I cannot see the wisdom in not taking full advantage of the Court when the CARICOM taxpayers are funding the Court. Although Vincentian national, Adrian Saunders has been appointed President of the regional court, critics against the CCJ in the multi-island state remain unmoved. This baffles me, since in the early 1990s the government was very much in favour of the Court.  Despite the opposition, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, a known regionalist is bent on St Vincent and the Grenadines joining the CCJ. 

 The decisions of the CCJ cannot be questioned. In fact, the judgments of the Court have been widely and internationally acclaimed. Let’s hope that there is a yes vote in Grenada, and Antigua and Barbuda in November and the Jamaicans and Trinidadians will wake up.

Yours faithfully,

Oscar Ramjeet

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