WITHIN the last six months, the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders, addressed the Guyana Bar Association at their Annual Dinner and the Jamaican Bar, who were celebrating the 60th Anniversary of their Court of Appeal. Justice Saunders’s two addresses were to the point and delivered in the best traditions of the Common Law. The Common Law shares the world’s dominion with the Civil Law and predominates in the United States and the British Commonwealth.
At the end of World WarII, Britain decided to withdraw from its vast worldwide empire. The withdrawal began with India in 1947 and continued in other parts of the world. The Caribbean withdrawal took place in the 1960s, and as the withdrawal progressed, the old colonies were metamorphosed into independent states. The new states tried as far as possible to adopt the constitutional arrangements of the mother country and to replace British institutions with their own and among these was the Judiciary, where, initially, they felt that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, as a final Court of Appeal, should be replaced by a Caribbean equivalent.
The new Caribbean states, inspired by the European Free Trade Association, formed themselves into a Free Trade Association and evolved into CARICOM.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated on April 16, 2005, and its original jurisdiction was as an international court with exclusive jurisdiction to interpret and apply the rules set out in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC). The RTC established CARICOM and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). It was expected that its Appellate Jurisdiction would be the final Court of Appeal for criminal and civil matters for all 15 CARICOM states, but so far, only Belize, Barbados, Dominica and Guyana have joined and accordingly altered their Constitutions. The other CARICOM states have retained the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as their final Court of Appeal.
The notion which inhibits the other CARICOM states from joining the CCJ is because they feel that Caribbean societies are so small that the CCJ judges would be subject to social pressures, including those of politicians. This notion is negated by the facts: (i) The court and its expenses, including salaries are not dependent on direct contributions of individual states but derive from a fund which no politician or state controls. This financial independence insulates the CCJ from any kind of pressure. (ii) The CCJ is respected worldwide, and its decisions are cited by the highest courts internationally, including the Privy Council, just as the CCJ would cite judgements of the Privy Council. The quality of justice delivered by CCJ is respected everywhere, and this fact should dispel any doubts about the quality of CCJ decisions.
There are other cogent reasons why all CARICOM states should adopt CCJ as their final Court of Appeal. (iii) Retaining the Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal is retaining the vestiges of colonialism and detracts from full sovereignty and independence. Britain and its institutions like the Privy Council have no wish to be involved in the domestic affairs of any ex-colony. (iv) The Region’s jurisprudence as well as that of the individual states, is advanced and enhanced by membership of the CCJ. (v) Only the rich could seek justice from the Privy Council since the high costs shut out most of the population, particularly the poor. In the words of Justice Saunders: “People of ordinary means are deprived of the ability to avail themselves of a level of access to justice that they could and should enjoy”. . .
The value of joining the CCJ is known in all states of CARICOM, in particular, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, but what inhibits them from joining seems to be a lurking nostalgia for the colonial past and a lethargy. This reluctance could be surmounted if the present four members always call upon their colleagues to join whenever they attend Heads of Government meetings of CARICOM and if the trade unions and NGOs were likewise to call upon their governments, always emphasising that it would open the door for citizens of ordinary means to access appellate justice.
One important facet of the work of the Court which Caribbean citizens could never forget is its part in successfully upholding democracy in 2019 and 2020 by its protection of the separation of powers and its correction of the misuse of executive power. In his address to the Jamaican Bar, Justice Saunders succinctly sums up the role of the CCJ: “Our aim is truly to live our mission to provide accountable, fair and efficient justice for the people and states of the Caribbean Community and to realise our vision which is to be a model of judicial excellence. The aim of the CCJ is to lead by example”.