by JK Roberts
The ongoing campaign for wooing the member-countries of Caricom to replace the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court for the region has been energised with the concept “access to justice”.
A leading impression meant to be conveyed by this concept is that the ordinary peoples have not been able to access justice with the Privy Council, and/or that there is a better set of judicial provisions for accessing justice with the CCJ. Unfortunately; although the CCJ has been established in the 2001 CCJ Agreement as having two courts in one, (www.sice.oas.org/Trade/CCME/agreement_CCJ.pdf), the effort and emphasis of promoting “access to justice” is restricted to its appellate, and not also vigorously applied for the original jurisdiction, even in countries where no cases is taken to the CCJ. Associated with the concept “access to justice” for the people, is the claimed esteemed credibility, security, stability and longevity of the CCJ. The CCJ is promoted as a distinguished independent court, free of external influences; and particularly, it having no political involvement in the management of the finances and in the selection and functioning of the judges. The truth however, is that political interferences do not have to be ‘direct and detectable’, but rather very ‘subtle and strategic’; and in fact, the CCJ Agreement gives the areas for which the various Contracting Parties (the governments/politicians) have to be consulted, such as to change certain provisions of that agreement (Article XXXII declares, “This Agreement may be amended by the Contracting Parties”).
The typical three-tier hierarchical judicial system in the Caricom region can be likened to the sides of a pyramid; each side is triangular in shape. The first level of the judicial system, or the base of the pyramid, represents the Magistrate and High Court system, with a lawsuit registry and a law library; this level is the ‘basic and optimal’ access point for persons of all walks of life who are seeking justice. The third level, or the apex, is the Privy Council (and the CCJ) which has the greatest judicial command but is ‘most remote’ from the people. The second judicial level is the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. The various governments have a constitutional role to enable the institutional strengthening, capacity building and operational efficiency of their local Magistrate and High Court systems, and also have a fiduciary responsibility to assist with the finance and upkeep of the Court of Appeal. Review Part Two of the previous internet article “Is Grenada’s CCJ referendum really about access to justice?” which highlights the unattended sorry state that exists in the local judiciary, debarring the people justice.
The callous attitude of the government of Grenada towards real access to justice for the ordinary people has caused to happen embarrassing situation of degraded structures and courthouse closures, with frustration for the delivery of justice and with negative impact on the judiciary. The government’s scant regard for facilitating Grenadians to the CCJ’s original jurisdiction is also evident. Part One of this article, “Fake Access to Justice promoted for Grenada’s CCJ referendum” makes reference to the 2018 filing of the nation’s first case to the CCJ and shows clearly that this “access to justice” is in fact controlled or regulated by the politicians. While the campaigners for the CCJ are clamouring that Grenadians should vote for the CCJ’s appellate jurisdiction since payment for this has already been made, it has now been realised that the government is the culprit for not using the CCJ since consent has to be granted before any trial can begin. The campaigners of the CCJ argue and advance that the Privy Council has never been concerned about the reputation and quality of the local judiciary; but praising and promoting that a ‘value-added’ role of the CCJ is to assist and develop local courts and judges, resulting in an improved administration of justice. However; consider in what follows, how fake those calculated pronouncements are. Note that despite using both Original and Appellate jurisdictions of the CCJ from 2005, Barbados has a deplorable report of its judiciary, which is indeed to the dissatisfaction and admonition of the CCJ, but that More Developed Caricom Country continues to be plagued with the problem.
To inculcate the impression that the Privy Council has not offered any rebuke about the administration of justice in the Caribbean is further from the truth, when for example, it could be concluded that his long-time concern or gripe as to why more countries are not joining the CCJ in the fullest, such as Trinidad and Tobago where the CCJ sits, may have been the reason for the threat by Barbados (former Prime Minister), Freundel Stuart, of withdrawing from the appellate jurisdiction of the court, if his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) returned to government from the 24 May 2018 General Election. Stuart points-out “…when you read decisions coming out of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council… evidence of horrible delays is uncovered in Caricom countries that have not signed on to the CCJ…” (https://barbadostoday.bb/2018/03/06/bteditorial-when-our-leader-seems-to-be-blowing-hot-and-cold-on-the-ccj/).
Moreover, reported on 11 September 2017, former High Court judge Carlisle Greaves questioned what has Barbados done to clean up the slow pace of its judiciary since coming under fire from the CCJ which had ruled the “…inordinate systematic delay of the Barbados judiciary…” and had advised that steps must be taken to address this for the proper administration of justice in Barbados and a better perception of the system by the public”; PressReader – Daily Nation (Barbados): 2017-09-11 – Court backlog a https://www.pressreader.com/barbados/daily-nation-barbados/…/281659665201333.
In reacting to the threat of Stuart, then opposition leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Mia Mottley said that when elected … her administration would appoint two more High Court judges to address the backlog of criminal and civil cases in the court system (https://barbadostoday.bb/2018/05/22/trinidad-lawyer-rejects-stuart-position-on-ccj/). To say then that Grenada has to accede to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction for the lower courts to be fixed is disingenuous. Voting for the regional CCJ cannot guarantee a transformation of the local judiciary, with orders for legal reforms and a hall of justice. Should the CCJ interfere in the sovereignty of Grenada? Could a contempt of court be brought against the Government by any court, for not obeying a judgement or an order? Furthermore; according to reports, CCJ Justice Ralston Nelson said that none of the Caribbean countries had made good on their intention to enact legislation to make CCJ order enforceable within their jurisdictions (www.jamaicaobserver.com/…/CCJ-lacks-mechanism-to-enforce-Shanique-Myrie-judg
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