Presentation by Ruggles Ferguson, President of the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association (OCCBA) at the special sitting of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Antigua on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 to bid farewell to its President Sir Dennis Byron on his retirement from the court
I rise on behalf of a reinvigorated, reorganised and re-energised Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations (OCCBA) to pay tribute and bid farewell to Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron (Sir Dennis) – a true pioneer of Caribbean legal reform and a truly international legal icon.
It was only in March 2018 that heads of bars throughout the Caribbean met at the Law Faculty of the Florida International University in Miami and recommitted themselves to the cause of OCCBA, electing a new executive to drive that process forward. As far back as July 1972, OCCBA recommended that our region should set up its own court to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Since then, the ultimate mission of a regional court has been a work in progress, experiencing many ups and downs and stops and starts.
Today, over 45 years later, the court is set-up and functional, having been inaugurated in Port of Spain in April 2005, more than 13 years ago. Regrettably, however, only 4 states – Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica – are members of the Appellate Jurisdiction, thus clearly defining and highlighting the ongoing task of getting several other member states to fulfill their own 14 February 2001 agreement made in Barbados to establish, and by extension fully utilise, the CCJ.
OCCBA now needs to continue and complete the historic mission started by its predecessors many years ago. We know that Sir Dennis has received, with pleasure, the news that public education and engagement on the CCJ will assume top priority under this new executive. One of our 2 vice presidents has been assigned the responsibility to draft a comprehensive plan to set the region abuzz with public education activities on the CCJ.
A committed and compassionate Caribbean Patriot
Sir Dennis stands out as a committed and compassionate Caribbean patriot who had dedicated most of his distinguished career to the development of the legal profession in a manner that truly serves the people of the region.
He has been a consistent and vocal pioneer for positive change and high standards: insisting on excellence at the bench and bar; embracing technology to improve efficiency and access to justice; introducing court-driven new civil procedure rules in the OECS in 2000 with an overriding objective of dealing with cases justly, efficiently and more effectively; promoting mediation and other forms of dispute resolution as a means of amicably resolving cases while mending relationships and reducing costs; waging ‘wars’ on unnecessary delays in the justice system; always seeking and promoting creative ways for backlog reduction in the court…and the list goes on and on!
An exemplary, inspiring and motivational leader
An exemplary, inspiring and motivational leader, Sir Dennis has led the process of judicial reform, first in the OECS in 1997, and continuing in the wider Caribbean and Commonwealth to this very day – unstoppable and with singular focus, always persevering and undaunted, overcoming the odds, and leading from the front with his unparalleled energy and enthusiasm.
Under Sir Dennis’ visionary leadership, the CCJ can now boast of instant electronic filing (e-filing) from law offices throughout the Caribbean and an efficient technologically-driven system to manage and effectively dispose of cases filed in the Original and Appellate Jurisdictions.
Sir Dennis has been a true beacon in advocating, advancing and exemplifying the mission of the court.
Many milestones in a distinguished journey
We salute you, Sir Dennis, on the many milestones in your legal journey of over 50 solid, productive and transformative years, from 1965 to present, culminating in your retirement as President of our prestigious Caribbean Court of Justice, effective 3 July 2018.
What an impressive, fulfilling and inspiring journey it has been: 16 outstanding years in private practice (1966 to 1982) and 36 solid years on the bench, ranging from High Court Judge, Justice of Appeal, Chief Justice, Judge and later President (for 2 consecutive 2-year terms) of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and ultimately President of the CCJ.
On top of all your weighty responsibilities, the record shows that you have been the proactive President of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute (CJEI) since 2000, sustaining your commitment to and mission of excellence within the judiciary throughout the region and beyond.
Yours has been a story of constant and deserving elevation on the bench, utilising your sharp intellect, great writing skills, tremendous organisational capacity, discipline, drive and determination, not for self-glory, but for the collective glory and benefit of the people of the region who continue to yearn for greater access to justice and timely disposition of matters.
The greatest tribute to Sir Dennis
The greatest tribute Caribbean Bars and lawyers can pay to Sir Dennis is to continue and to redouble efforts to have all Caribbean countries join the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ soonest. Let us be the ambassadors of that change, making things happen; not mere silent sideliners watching things happen or just wondering what has happened.
Let us renew our commitment today to the crucial task of public education as Antigua and Grenada prepare their citizens to vote in a referendum to approve the CCJ as the final appellate court. We must let our individual and collective voices be heard, loudly and clearly.
Thank you, Sir Dennis
Thank you Sir Dennis for your immeasurable contribution to Caribbean Jurisprudence; for your hard-working and selfless sacrifices over the years to promote greater access to and quality justice for the people of the region; for your undaunted efforts to reduce the backlog of cases and the frustrating delays in the justice system; for your excellent, hands-on, motivational and inspiring leadership; and for your legacy of timely and well-delivered judgments on cutting-edge areas of the law: Spence & Hughes, Shanique Myre, and more recently Eddy Ventose being only few examples.
We are confident that with enhanced public education the CCJ will win the full trust and confidence of Caribbean people, sooner rather than later.
We congratulate your most worthy and natural successor, Justice Adrian Saunders, who, on 4 July 2018 – mere weeks away – will assume the Presidency of the CCJ. We note that Justice Saunders has stood side by side with you, facing and overcoming the challenges, since his appointment in 1996 as a High Court Judge of the OECS. You have passed the baton to extremely competent hands.
Sir Dennis, OCCBA salutes you on your retirement after such exemplary and sterling service to the regional and international community. You are a true icon of the legal profession. May you enjoy a happy, healthy, fun-filled and richly blessed retirement. May we put you on notice, however, that Caribbean Bars will be calling on you from time to time to share your extensive knowledge and experience as part of our massive public campaign on the CCJ.