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June 4, 2013

Court rules that St Lucia does not need a referendum to rid the country of the Privy Council

Tue June 4, 2013

Editor: There has been a development since I wrote my last piece on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), when I said that the CCJ is stagnant since interest is waning and it will soon be forgotten. Well since then there has been a development which has raised the hope of most Caribbean nationals, so much so that it prompted a positive and favourable comment from CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque.{{more}}

Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Court Janice Pereira has given a ruling that it was not a legal requirement for St Lucia to have a referendum to rid the country of the Privy Council if it wants to accept the CCJ as the final court.

Pereira delivered the opinion following a request by St Lucia’s attorney General, Philip La Corbiniere.

In her ruling the British Virgin Islands born Chief Justice indicated that the Constitution clearly “contemplates and provides the freedom of St Lucia to establish a court in common with other states or countries. She further stated that St Lucia was empowered to enter into such an agreement on its own and the relevant Bill would not be subject to a referendum.

LaRocque said the judgment was a seminal one in the progress towards more countries accepting the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ. The Secretary General further pointed out that the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerritt, in a media interview said that his country was proceeding to accept the appellate jurisdiction of the Court after having held national consultations on the issue.

In the interview, Skerrit said that Dominica would send a letter to the British Government next week seeking permission to recognize the CCJ as its final court. The Prime Minister said that the Dominican government’s resolve was to move in recognizing the CCJ as the final court and “certainly this year we would see Dominica recognizing the CCJ.”

I recall a few years ago, the late Professor Ralph Carnegie, who was known as the leading Constitutional expert in the region said at a Seminar in St Lucia that only a few countries in the region require referendum to remove the Privy Council as the final Court.

Meanwhile the position of Jamaica is uncertain. There have been so many “ifs” and “buts”, what is certain is that the government needs more than a majority vote in Parliament to cut ties with the Privy Council since that was a ruling of the London based court many years ago. Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister said in Parliament that she would remove the Privy Council only in criminal appeals, but since her statement more than a year ago nothing has been done to put the machinery in place for the “half way” move.

After eight long years of the inauguration of the court only three countries, Guyana, Barbados, and Belize have recognized the CCJ as the final appellate court.

Oscar Ramjeet