By Krystel Rolle
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett said on Thursday that The Bahamas should eventually abandon the Privy Council as the final court of appeal and move toward the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
While that decision would be up to the government of The Bahamas, Sir Michael said there is a “powerful argument to moving eventually toward the CCJ”.
“Whether we do that now is a matter for political debate and a matter that [the government] will have to discuss and consider,” Sir Michael told the Nassau Guardian following the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers Conference.
“I have my own views and I think it’s almost a natural progression of our constitutional development that we move away from the Privy Council and I think the Caribbean Court of Justice is likely to be the alternative to the Privy Council.
“I think that as a part of our constitutional development it’s almost inevitable that we move away from the Privy Council like lots of other countries, including Australia and New Zealand.”
Sir Michael said while the Privy Council has been useful, the CCJ would better serve the country’s needs. “It’s a regional court but it’s also part of our development as a nation that we look to our own court for the resolution of disputes.”
CCJ president Justice Dennis Byron also talked about the benefits of Caribbean nations turning to the CCJ. According to Byron, the regional appellate court has a quicker clearance rate than the Privy Council.
“In the six years of its lifetime, 78 matters have been filed before the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice and 74 decisions have already been delivered,” he told conference participants. “This comes from just the three countries who have signed up for this final jurisdiction.
“By comparison, the number of appeals that have gone before the Privy Council from all the remaining territories have not amounted to 50.
“So just by virtue of that simple statistic we have seen that the CCJ has already improved the access of our people to justice.”
Byron added that it’s even more important to ensure the quick delivery of justice as the region reports higher levels of crime.
In The Bahamas, grave concerns have been raised over the crime problem. So far this year, 104 people have been murdered, up from the record 94 last year.
“All of our communities are affected by the increase of crime which is a major issue affecting the stability of our region,” Byron said.
“And I recall that many years ago when people were considering what were the factors that assisted in reducing crime and improving the stability, a key factor that was identified was the improvement of the justice system. It’s not just justice delivery but the delivery of civil justice.”
He added, “At the hallmark of the aspirations of our people is the idea of justice is critical.”
Sir Michael admitted that the Bahamian judicial system has its share of problems.
“We are all sensitive to the need to give access to the court to be able to deliver the adjudication of disputes in a timely matter - [impartial] trials in a reasonable time. These are things that we struggle with and we look for ways in which we can refine and improve on what we do now,” he said.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian http://www.thenassauguardian.com