by JK Roberts
The ordinary people are being wooed to place confidence and contentment in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), especially since its judges are said to be isolated from political interferences.
However; a crucial point which must not escape from the minds and decisions of the people is that the politicians have a direct ‘interest, influence, impact and determination’ in the accessing of justice, even before a court case could be accepted for substantive trial by the CCJ. Moreover; empirical evidences show that the government or politicians in Grenada have not always acted in the best interest of the people, and particularly have inflicted gross disrespect and injustice to individuals.
The previously internet-circulated three parts of this article, “Fake Access to Justice promoted for Grenada’s CCJ Referendum” bring to clarity the role and status of the CCJ and particularly the policy and protocol for taking court-cases to the CCJ in its Original Jurisdiction. Throughout, the outstanding question continues to resonate as to why the government has not been proactive in educating and facilitating the people on judicial redress of claims and complaints in the CCJ’s original jurisdiction virtually since 2005; this indeed points to the insincerity of the powers-that-be about “access to justice”.
The present thrust and rush for acceding to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction also provokes suspicions about the agenda and objective of the powers-that-be on the pursuit. The appellate jurisdiction handles civil and criminal matters of a constitutional nature, including the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. This jurisdiction applies to and affects the ordinary people much more than the original jurisdiction, but it is much more burdensome and demanding for the people to access and to enjoy. It involves, first having access to the local court system (Magistrate courts, High Courts and the Court of Appeal via the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court), before getting to the CCJ. Critical to the effectiveness of this first judicial access point is the institutional arrangements of resources, professionals, code of conduct and financial viability.
It is of extreme worth, as a warning for the 6 November 2018 constitutional referendum on the CCJ, to flag that the preconditions for bringing a court case to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, speak about a radical ‘hidden’ change to a so-described “prescribed value” as exists in section 104 of the constitution. This change disturbs, puts discrepancies, degrades and demotes the conventional privilege of the ordinary people to access justice; a higher minimum value and lesser entrenched provision is required in qualifying for the CCJ than for the Privy Council. The rationale for such harsh and hideous judicial change(s) needs to be had; however, necessary explanations are stifled.
Section 9 of the Constitution of Grenada (Caribbean Court of Justice and Renaming of Supreme Court) (Amendment) Bill 2018 states, “… An appeal shall lie as of right to the Caribbean Court of Justice ( … hereinafter in this Chapter VIIIA be referred to as “the Court”) from decisions of the Court of Appeal in the following cases— (a) final decisions in any civil proceedings where—(i) the matter in dispute on appeal to the Court is of the prescribed value or upwards; or (ii) the appeal involves directly or indirectly a claim to or a question respecting property or a right regarding any matter of the prescribed value or upwards …”; “… the “prescribed value” means the value of fifteen hundred dollars (‘EC$1500.00’) or such other value as may be prescribed by Parliament.” … ). At least, four points are begging for answers, in relation to section 104 of the constitution, thus:
- Why change the construct and crux of the “prescribed value” as appears in the constitution? The unsuspecting and unenlightened voter would vote for the $1500 on referendum day, as well as committing and exposing themselves to any ridiculous value to be determined by the parliament from 7 November 2018, anytime as of the following day, week, month or year after the referendum-poll.
- This “prescribed value” which is liable to be changed randomly at the whim and fancy of the politicians would make it more awkward and difficult for the ordinary people to access justice. Why should justice be manipulated, be distant and be marginalised, resulting in having the poor and vulnerable debarred?
- There is a degree of inconsistency of this “prescribed value” with that stated in the CCJ Agreement under Article XXV as, “… of not less than twenty-five thousand dollars Eastern Caribbean currency (EC$25,000) or where the appeal involves directly or indirectly a claim or a question respecting property or a right of the aforesaid value …”. Which provision is of precedence, Constitution or Agreement?
- The true comparative cost for having court-cases in the CCJ as against in the Privy Council is very relevant here. What are the guidelines governing the charging by attorneys for handling court-cases; is there for the public’s consumption, a fee structure by the CCJ, as well as by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court? It is of interest to note that, most methods of costing for professional services, uses a percentage of the estimated base-line value-figure of the deal, or the claim, or the property; thus, the stipulated $25,000 “prescribed value” in the CCJ Agreement, which could even be more if the value is in accordance with the local parliamentary approval, would also be taken into account when calculating the total cost for the court-cases going to the CCJ. Cheaper and easier with the CCJ?
Is the CCJ Referendum simply about replacing Privy Council with CCJ, as Grenada’s final court of appeal? This fake “access to justice” must be debunked and rejected, Vote No!
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