Full Disclosure
September 25, 2009
Privy Council begs us: “Please LEAVE!”

A YES vote on November 25th will move our nation one step closer to the CCJ. It was most interesting news this week to learn that whilst many here in SVG are defending the continuation of our use of the Privy Council in England over and above our own CCJ that a bulletin coming from England could only be interpreted as the Privy Council asking us kindly to pack our bags and leave. The pointed caption on BBC was that the Privy Council is complaining that Caribbean cases are taking up too much of their time.{{more}} What next? Do we wait for a formal letter addressed to Kingstown, SVG, headed “Notice to Quit”?

Well, after leaving your mother’s home and gaining your independence, for nearly thirty years, it is asking a bit too much to still be running to her doorstep to have the final say in all your problems. Your mother has all right to tell you in a nice way “don’t come back”.

The esteemed Lord Nicholas Phillips, in an interview with the UK’s Financial Times newspaper, made the following salient points that should make anyone attempting to make a case for the Privy Council to remain as our final appellate court to rethink that position. His Lordship noted:

(1) Ways should be sought to curb the “disproportionate” time that senior justices spend hearing legal appeals from independent Commonwealth countries to the Privy Council in London; and

(2) “In an ideal world” former Commonwealth Countries would stop using the Privy Council and set up their own final courts of appeal.

I take that as a request to establish your own final court of appeal, indeed a notice asking you in a very polite way to leave.

The director of The Constitution Unit at the University College London, Mr. Robert Hazell, went even further and had the following to say:

(1) That judges in the country’s top court spent almost half their time on business “of no interest to anyone in the UK”; and

(2) “If they didn’t spend time in the Privy Council, the justices of the Supreme Court could hear almost twice as many cases coming up from the UK legal system.”

In other words, the matters from the former colonies are clogging their court system, and quite naturally hampering its efficacy.

Essentially, what can be gleaned from these comments is that it is time for you our former colonies to go. Go! The issue of time is canvassed as the reason justifying us being chased from Colonial premises; however, time and cost are one and the same. Time is money. In a period of a global financial downturn, it is expected that budgets would be reworked and excesses would be discarded. The former colonies are considered the excesses in this regard.

The region’s efforts to establish the CCJ was a most proactive approach, and we must indeed applaud its architects. Could you imagine the scramble which would have been taking place today had we not already moved to establish the CCJ?

The reality of our circumstances is that national independence was obtained in 1979 from Britain, yet today almost thirty years later we still have retained the British Crown as our own and its Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as our final court of appeal. With constitutional reform, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a chance to enhance our contribution to the nurturing of our Caribbean Civilization and the evolution of a purely indigenous jurisprudence by moving one step closer towards having our own Caribbean Court of Justice as our final appellate court.

The proposed 2009 Constitution provides for the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council without the further requirement of another referendum. Indeed, this is a step closer to having the CCJ and not the Privy Council reside at the crest of our judicial hierarchy.

It speaks very little of our capacity to govern ourselves when our final appellate court resides and is still so closely tied to our past colonizers. Well the past colonisers are fed up.

It is also a definite infringement on our political sovereignty to have a foreign court permanently extended in our Constitution as a final appellate court. The current education revolution marks a new dispensation characterized by a quest to empower our people. It is in this light that our generation must take our political sovereignty beyond a mere cosmetic exercise. Our national independence and pursuit to obtain full self determination and political sovereignty is far from being completed. In this context, constitutional reform is indeed a cry for freedom. Let us take ownership.

If we do not support the constitutional reform process in November, we will be denouncing our ability to create such an important document to govern ourselves.

Our own Adrian Saunders’ CCJ is a national example of our ability as a Vincentian people within a regional context that we have the human ability and God-given talent to reach the very top. I have confidence in our regional legal luminaries. The positive minded will say: “We are ready”.

There will be no Caribbean authentic legal philosophy without a CCJ, and that much is very clear. Do we feel comfortable going on forever with the Privy Council at the helm of our court system? Well, the reality is that that is no longer the question. The Privy Council is saying set up your own final appellate court. The new Constitution brings us one step closer to having the CCJ as our final appellate court. Vote “YES” to such a significant advancement.

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator, now serving as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture etc.