Our Readers' Opinions
June 25, 2013
Abolish appeals to Privy Council

Tue June 25, 2013

Editor: Now that the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court has ruled that there is no need for a referendum for St Lucia to abolish appeals to the Privy Council, and legal experts say that the situation is the same for Dominica, Caribbean nationals are curious about whether the same applies to other countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean.{{more}}

It seems as if St Kitts/Nevis does not require a referendum, since its Constitution is identical to Dominica’s. However, these three countries would have to get the green light from the British Government before they initiate steps to join the appellate division of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines require referenda before they can rid themselves from the Privy Council. Reports from St George’s state that the Keith Mitchell government will take steps to have a referendum as soon as practicable, but the Baldwin Spencer administration might not want to make a move unless there is a clear, unequivocal and vocal support of the opposition.

St Vincent and the Grenadines tried and failed three years ago, but I am of the view that the measure was defeated because the referendum was loaded with other controversial issues such as removing the Queen as Head of State.

The situation in Trinidad and Tobago is baffling, because the UNC administration under Basdeo Panday was all in favour, hence the reason why the Court is based in Port of Spain. One wonders why Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar is not introducing legislation to remove the Privy Council as the final Court as regards criminal appeals, as she announced in Parliament on April 24, 2012. She should not have any fear that the Bill would be defeated, because the Opposition leader has publicly announced that he is all in favour of the CCJ and wondered why the Prime Minister was only going halfway, with criminal appeals.

It is clear that in Jamaica, a referendum is required, since the Privy Council made a ruling in this regard in 2005 when it deemed the Caribbean Court of Justice Act passed in 2004, which sought to eliminate the Privy Council as the final court as unconstitutional, because a majority decision by lawmakers was not enough and three-quarters of the electorate must decide by way of referendum.

The big question is why Prime Minister Portia Simpson is not moving in this regard, when the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which was against the regional court, has had a change of heart and is willing to support the move to the way for its establishment.

The CCJ was established since February 14, 2001, but was inaugurated in April, 2005 and, so far, only three countries, Guyana, Barbados and Belize have joined the appellate division. There was reluctance in some quarters that the local judges could be influenced by regional politicians.

Oscar Ramjeet