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July 27, 2018
Have another referendum and let the people decide – Sir James

Another referendum must be held in order for the decision to be made of whether or not this country should make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) its final court of appeal.

This is the view of former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, who was being interviewed on a radio programme on Tuesday, when he expressed his disapproval of leaving the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to join the CCJ in its final appellate jurisdiction.

“I was involved in the early discussions of the CCJ and I objected from day one, while I was prime minister,” he said. “I felt so from the beginning,I feel so now and I do not care if I am the last man standing. Get that quite clear.”

A special sitting of the CCJ was held last Friday to celebrate the elevation of Vincentian-born Justice Adrian Saunders to president of the court.

During this sitting, several speakers, including Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Queen’s Counsel Parnel Campbell appealed for St Vincent and the Grenadines to join the CCJ, particularly while a Vincentian sits at the helm as president.

Gonsalves, in his remarks, said that joining the CCJ was one of the constitutional changes outlined in the November 2009 referendum, which was rejected by the people.

But he said that the change could be made if a two-thirds majority in Parliament approves it.

Mitchell described this suggestion as “going through a backdoor”. And he insisted that the public must be involved in the decision of removing the Privy Council as the final court of appeal.

“If you are convinced that the people’s opinion has changed, then test that opinion again. If you say it was cluttered up with other things in the referendum, the answer is very simple. Come with a single resolution and ask the people if they want to terminate their relationship with the Privy Council and then get your two thirds majority in the Parliament,” he said.

The former Prime Minister revealed that he received an invitation to the special sitting of the CCJ in St Vincent, but that he declined the invitation on principle.

Mitchell said that he is proud when a Vincentian reaches the top of any ladder, but that it was not a good reason to abandon the Privy Council for the CCJ.

In November 2014, the Privy Council ruled in favour of Mitchell, who at the time was pursuing a case where he claimed bias on the part of retired High Court judge, Ephraim Georges, in relation to the Ottley Hall Commission of Inquiry.

He said that his matter was thrown out twice in the lower courts of St Vincent and the Grenadines and he had to seek permission from the Court of Appeal to appeal his case at the Privy Council.
Mitchell said he spent over EC$1.5 million in that period.

“This business of trying to get around the constitutional provisions, it’s not just a matter of what is Sir James Mitchell’s cost, it’s a matter of respecting the constitution. Now, the people in the Privy Council are people of fantastic substance you know,” he said, when asked whether the regular man would be able to afford having a case appealed at the Privy Council.

The former prime minister said that there are competent judges in the Caribbean, but that they had not demonstrated that competence, as some of the cases going up to the Privy Council were thrown out.

He also noted that CCJ was headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago, which is still not a part of its appellate jurisdiction. And he further noted that Jamaica recently ruled that it would not leave the Privy Council.

Mitchell said that he has spoken with members of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who say that they stand by the results of the referendum.

“I would expect that if the Prime Minister brings any attempt to get rid of the Privy Council through the backdoor, that the NDP parliamentarians will stick to the principles which the party subscribes,” he said.