Understanding the Law
April 22, 2005
Looking at the CCJ

The Caribbean Court of Justice is here at last! In an impressive ceremony in Trinidad, the court came into existence on Saturday 16th April 2005, in the presence of representatives from Caribbean and Commonwealth countries and a live television audience across the region.

Prior to the inauguration, the former Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago, Michael de la Bastide, was chosen president to lead the august body which will consist of ten judges. At the inauguration, he commended those who supported the protection from political interference. {{more}}He assured his audience that the “CCJ is extraordinarily well protected against political influences,” because the agreement could be amended only with the consent of the 12 countries which signed and ratified it. He is of the opinion that it would be difficult to get 12 countries to participate in “a joint enterprise to weaken the independence of the court”.

According to the president, a formal call for a CCJ was made in 1970 when the Jamaican delegation at the Sixth Heads of Government Conference proposed the establishment of a Caribbean Court of Justice. Even before this, Lord Brougham a member of the Privy Council and Lord Chancellor, in 1828, suggested that the Privy Council should be replaced by a local appellate body. The president also addressed the issue of funding claiming that the CCJ is not dependent financially on Government because it is financed by a fund of about US$100 million raised by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). That sum has now been transferred to an independent board of trustees comprising distinguished and independent persons.

The appellate jurisdiction of the court

The court has both original and appellate jurisdictions. Our state has accepted the original jurisdiction of the court but not yet accepted the appellate jurisdiction. Only Barbados and Guyana have so far acceded to the appellate jurisdiction. However, when we do so, the Privy Council would no longer be our final court of appeal. The CCJ will consider and determine both civil and criminal matters. If the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean gives a decision that is unsatisfactory to a party, that party may appeal to the CCJ. In practice, most of our cases rarely go beyond our Court of Appeal (Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court) level. It could be that our finances do not permit us to utilize our court of last resort. The Privy Council website which provides statistics of cases filed for the Caribbean and a few Commonwealth Countries does not show any appeal from St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the past two years. There was only one petition for special leave to appeal in 2003. It would be interesting to see if the CCJ would change the statistics.

The original jurisdiction of the Court

The word ‘original’ is used in its ordinary sense. Certain types of cases must start in the CCJ. The CCJ will function as an international tribunal (court) applying rules of international law in respect of the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas- the treaty establishing the Caribbean Community including the Caricom single market and Economy (CSME). For example, if there is a dispute between two states concerning a trade issue, that matter could be taken before the CCJ by one of the states. Only states will present matters before the court. Individuals or private entities may appear in proceedings only by special leave in special circumstances. Leave will only be granted if the interest of justice requires it.