June 21, 2013

Time to support the CCJ in full

Fri June 21, 2013

In what has been a landmark decision, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court ruled in favour of an application by the government of St. Lucia that it does not need to hold a referendum in order to join the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), thereby replacing the British Privy Council.{{more}}

The ruling has significant implications not only for St. Lucia, but also for its sister territories of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), most of whom have constitutions very similar to that of St. Lucia, a legacy of former British rule. Indeed, one such country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, had officially registered its interest in the application as an “interested party”, having failed in its own attempts to get public approval via constitutional change in 2009. Another OECS country, Dominica, the only one to opt for Republican status at independence, has indicated that it is to switch from the Privy Council to the CCJ soon.

The CCJ itself was established in 2001 after decades of clamour by many Caribbean people to complete their own legal system. But whereas all countries have subscribed to its original jurisdiction, most have balked at removing the appellate jurisdiction from the Privy Council and entrusting it to the CCJ. Only Barbados, Belize and Guyana have done so thus far.

But the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Eastern Caribbean has not found favour with at least one senior attorney. Veteran St. Lucian barrister and former politician, Evans Calderon, who participated in St. Lucia’s constitutional negotiations with Britain, some 35 years ago, has said that he is “dead against” the switch from the Privy Council to the CCJ. Calderon is quoted as saying that the change cannot be made by a simple Act of Parliament, but requires a referendum.

He argues against the Supreme Court’s majority ruling that the constitutional provision that any move away from the Privy Council requires a referendum, is an error. His blind faith in British justice is revealed in his assertion that “the British government would have seen the error long ago.” He went on to indicate in no uncertain terms his clear preference for the Privy Council in saying, “I would prefer the Privy Council to the CCJ. Judges in the OECS know everybody… (they) are not financially independent and morally strong.”

Much as one respects the opinions of the learned counsel, we can only rue the aspersions on the competence and character of the Caribbean Court and of our own judges. It is in keeping with those expressed throughout the Caribbean by several of his legal colleagues and the more conservative sectors of Caribbean society.

That such views continue to be expounded, even in the face of the Privy Council itself indicating that it wishes to be freed from the responsibility of Caribbean appellate jurisdiction, is an indictment on our own sense of independence and self confidence, after more than a half century of the independence of some of our major countries.

The arguments about the supposed lack of impartiality of our judges on the basis of familiarity may be taken to ridiculous conclusions. Should we argue for British policemen because we can’t trust our own? Or British doctors, engineers, public servants etc? If we go down this road we may as well call for the return of British rule, because we can’t trust our own politicians to govern us.

It is time for us to reject this backwardness and, with all our imperfections, stand up to our own responsibilities and support the CCJ in full.