In making this quite clear in a telephone interview with this columnist at the weekend, Jamaica’s Attorney General Patrick Atkinson steered away from conflicting views in Trinidad and Tobago over last Wednesday’s announcement by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to access the CCJ for criminal cases.
Atkinson said that at
this stage, he prefers to view the decision by the Trinidad and Tobago Government
as “an encouraging forward step” and would await
However, so far as the Government of Jamaica is concerned, the determination was not only to break the syndrome of dependence on the Privy Council as the country’s final Appeal Court in favour of the CCJ, but also work towards ending the current monarchical system of government for a constitutional republic with a Jamaican as president.
The attorney general said he was optimistic, based on “some positive signals”, that the parliamentary opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) would agree to breaking links with the Privy Council in favour of the CCJ as well ending the monarchical
form of governance inherited at Independence.
The key political difference is that while the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has opted to go half way in accessing the CCJ, Jamaica is aiming for a complete break with the Privy Council, in preference for the appellate jurisdiction of the regional court.
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were the first two countries to gain their political freedom from Britain within weeks of each other back in August 1962, and were among founding member countries of the Caribbean Community that will be 39 years in existence this coming July.
Relatedly, both also need two-thirds majorities in both their Houses of Parliament to delink themselves from the jurisdictions of the Privy Council as well as moving to a constitutional republic. Trinidad and Tobago has done the latter with a non-executive president as head of state.
So far as accessing the regional court is concerned, the distinguishing political difference between the current governments in Kingston and Port-of-Spain is that the PNP has always been forthcoming, as a government, to replace the Privy Council in favour of the CCJ.
On the other hand, the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), which dominates the current People’s Partnership Government (PPG) in Port-of-Spain, has been vacillating on accessing the CCJ, although as the ruling party of an earlier government, headed by then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, it was quite supportive of the court’s establishment with operational headquarters in Port-of-Spain.
It is also pertinent to observe here that neither did the People’s National Movement (PNM) with a two-thirds majority in the lower House under Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s leadership, nor any of the significant politicians currently decrying the puzzling half-way measure by the PPG to limit the CCJ’s jurisdiction to criminal matters, had shown interest in advocating breaking ties with the Privy Council in favour of the regional court.
Now, two former attorneys general, John Jeremy of the PNM and Ramesh Maharaj of the UNC, have gone public in not only criticising the Government’s decision, they have gone further to question the “legality” of such a course.
In the view of some other leading members of the legal profession in and out of Trinidad and Tobago, the decision by the PPG could well be viewed as a cynical and contemptuous approach by the Government to maintain
a “colonial relationship”
with the Privy Council
while proudly speaking about celebrating the country’s
half-century of political Independence on August 31.
Simply stated, the announcement by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to access the CCJ as a final Appeal Court for criminal matters suggests a desire to enjoy the best of two worlds — maintaining ties with the Privy Council while finally accessing the CCJ, seven years after
its inauguration, for just criminal matters.
This, basically, means the handling of the numerous death penalty cases for murder that are forwarded on appeals to the Privy Council where the overwhelming decisions of Law Lords normally go in favour of the accused, much to the dismay of the local “hang-them-quickly” advocates fed up with the spiralling murder rates.
Since the CCJ was inaugurated in 2005, the region’s people have been sensitised to the scope of its responsibilities that encompass an original and appellate jurisdiction as a major pillar of the regional integration movement in the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which anchors the Caribbean Community.
According to Sir Shridath Ramphal, one of the region’s foremost legal luminaries,
“I share the doubts as
to the legality of a partial appellate jurisdiction for the CCJ… My hope is that Trinidad and Tobago will
go all the way in accessing
the regional court, consistent with the Caricom Heads
of Government Agreement for its establishment”.
Sir Shridath was head
of the West Indian Commission that had, among its core recommendations, the creation of a West Indian Court of Appeal. That idea was to subsequently blossom into the CCJ.