Jamaica’s Leader: Joining the CCJ is a Major Priority
That’s the consensus of Jamaicans in the Diaspora in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut react to new Jamaica government’s plan to embrace the Caribbean Court of Justice as the country’s final court.
Whether they were attorneys, prominent elected official in New York or leaders of the Diaspora movement, the response was the same: the move to cut Jamaica’s relationship with the British Privy Council in London would reinforce Jamaica’s sovereignty as the island-nation prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, the first English-speaking Caribbean nation to reach that milestone later this year.
But if there is division among Jamaicans, it is over the issue of a referendum or a vote in parliament in Kingston where the People’s National Party led by Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller was needed to implement the historic change. The PNP now holds a commanding two-thirds majority, the margin required to make the change without a nationwide plebiscite. “After 50 years of independence, we shouldn’t be going to a group of white men in robes in London for our final justice,” said New York State lawmaker, Assemblyman Nick Perry, Deputy Majority Leader in the lower legislative chamber in Albany. “But I firmly believe that a referendum is the correct way to go about it, even if it’s not required. It’s prudent to consult the people by way of a referendum. A good functioning democracy should provide an effective way to consult the people on major issues and leaving the Privy Council, a relic of the colonial past is one such issue.” Joan Pinncock, President of the Jamaica-American Bar Association in the Northeast agreed with the move towards the CCJ which is based in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Turning to the Caribbean Court of Justice is a strike for our sovereignty, after 50 years of independence from Britain,” she said. “We should have done it before. The Privy Council is far away in London and is often inaccessible. In addition it is too expensive. Acceptance of the CCJ, an indigenous Caribbean court with a body of judges capable of making fair decisions is important for us in the Caribbean, Jamaica included. Continuing turning to the Privy Council is like speaking to a colonial power. We should move as quickly as possible to make the CCJ a reality in our system of justice in Jamaica.”
In her inaugural address after being sworn in as Prime Minister last week, Portia Simpson Miller told a large audience at Kings House that acceptance of the CCJ was a major priority of her administration. She called on the Opposition Jamaica Labor Party to join with the PNP to ensure that the country abolished the Privy Council as the court of last resort for Jamaica.
“We must fully repatriate our sovereignty,” was the way Simpson-Miller put it in her appeal to the JLP and Andrew Holness, the Opposition Leader who as Prime Minister called December 29th election and in the process led his party to a resounding defeat. “Let us together complete this aspect of regional integration within the life of this administration.” With 42 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives in Kingston, Administration has the two-thirty majority needed to approve the necessary constitutional changes that would end the link with the Privy Council. But there is a loud call for a referendum instead. For instance, like Assemblyman Perry, a Jamaican in Brooklyn, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, executive director of Jamaicans for Justice, a local advocacy organization, said that the initiative was far too important simply to rely on a parliamentary vote.
She contended that the treaty setting up the regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission, the body that appoints judges to the CCJ, was changed without much information or discussion in Jamaica. “We have had an alteration to the treaty which nobody knows anything about, changing the terms and conditions of the Judicial Services Commission and this is done without absolutely any publicity or consultation,” charged Gomes. “So, that remains a weakness because the heads can get together and change the conditions and terms and it can affect the court.” Another reaction came from Jamaican Council for Human Rights whose legal officer, Nancy Anderson, who warned that the new government’s timetable for the CCJ was quite optimistic. In essence, some time was needed to make the necessary legal changes. “If they are trying to do that before the 6th of August, they are going to have to hurry because even with the required majority, there are time limits,” she said. “It will require several months to amend the constitution in the way that that it needs to be amended.
” The CCJ is recognized as the final court in only three Caribbean nations –Barbados, Guyana and Belize. are the only courtiers. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have so far been unable to accept the court’s appellate jurisdiction because of internal disagreements. Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar have raised questions of confidence in the court in her country while the JLP whether in or out of government has been lukewarm to the court. As a matter of fact, Edward Seaga, a former Prime Minister who later became Opposition before retiring from parliament several years ago argued strongly against the CCJ. A former Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, was among the Caribbean leaders who led the effort to create the court but was unable to persuade the opposition JLP to embrace it. The members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, OECS – Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines – have so far opted to stay with the Privy Council. Patrick Beckford, President of the Jamaica Diaspora Board in the northeast region of the United States, said that the CCJ should have been accepted in Jamaica long ago and rejected the suggestion heard in some sections in Jamaica that the judges could easily be influenced or even bribed.
“The decision on the CCJ should have made a long time ago,” Beckford told the Carib News. “I reject the suggestion that people can bribe judges and juries in the Caribbean to get favorable decisions because we don’t have a history of that in our region. There is no evidence of any widespread corruption in our court system.”