By Mike Jarvis
‘Appeal’ as indicated in the heading is a rhetorical question.
There will no doubt be extensive post mortems on the outcome of the referenda in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada (where the membership bid has now failed twice) on having the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final appellate court.
Both independent countries, like most of their Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners, still refer to the UK Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) as their final criminal and civil jurisdiction appellate court.
It’s worth pointing out that it was the CCJ that was under scrutiny, not the JCPC – and where there might have been concerns they were certainly not of the scale and depth that the CCJ was subjected to.
Following the coverage and debates via broadcast media and social media (increasingly now more immediate, far reaching and impactful than traditional media – which itself piggybacks on social media) – it’s clear that a range of peripheral issues crept into and influenced the outcome in both instances.
From my point of view, while the people have indeed spoken, the question that remains is what did they speak on and did they have all of the relevant information on the core issue at hand?
This reminds of Brexit, where scaremongering and a lot of very localised issues irrelevant to the central issue swung the referendum outcome.
The UK is still struggling to coming to terms with that.
Likewise with the CCJ referenda in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada.
The issue was supposed to be one matter, others were brought into the picture and people tended to also vote regarding those, even though the margins were close.
Should it have been a simple majority vote like Brexit?
The other point to consider is that the lifespan of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is not guaranteed in the current UK post-Brexit environment with its economic implications.
It could be cut or its scope reduced due to a change in UK national spending policies.
Bear in mind that the JCPC as an institution is fully funded by the British government.
Any review is highly likely to consider that.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council originated as the highest court of civil and criminal appeal for the British Empire.
On the Privy Council’s own website it states: “When the British empire became the Commonwealth of Nations, many member countries chose to retain their legal links with the United Kingdom. Today, the Judicial Committee still hears ‘appeals to Her Majesty in Council’ from many countries worldwide.”
I’m not a legal scholar, but ‘many’ and ‘countries’ warrant perhaps even judicial definition here in their qualification.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council does not rule on UK issues, only those of a handful of independent Caribbean countries and UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
No African or other Commonwealth country refers cases to the Judicial Committee off the Privy Council.
They, like the Caribbean, have their own supreme courts.
They, unlike the Caribbean, use their own supreme courts as their final appellate court.
That only four CARICOM countries – Barbados Belize, Dominica and Guyana – have the CCJ as their final court of appeal on criminal and civil matters speaks volumes.
It’s now more a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the British government may decide to review the functions – and funding – of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The question becomes ‘what then?’
Remember, Caribbean governments pay nothing towards its upkeep. The only costs are legal fees of the lawyers taking up cases on behalf of clients, travel, accommodation, etc.
For many seeking judicial redress via the London-based JCPC, that is a costly prospect for which many are not financially equipped to afford.
Therefore, it would seem a lot more individually financially cost-effective, as well as nationally and regionally more economically beneficial – not cheaper; justice should not be cheap by any interpretation – to access the CCJ.
When justice is inaccessible because of cost, is that justice denied?
From my time covering a range of issues associated with the CCJ, I am convinced that Caribbean people still want, and would be proud of having their own Supreme Court, presided over by their own judiciary, making final appellate judgements on their own issues.
If there are doubts about the CCJ (the allegations are voluminous at best with yet no shred of judicially-supported evidence) then let’s sort them out.
Set up an international independent commission of inquiry, if that’s what it takes, to fix what it is claimed is wrong with it.
Thinking of ‘feeling’ that something is wrong creates doubt and talks such fear into existence. The only result is loss of trust. We must trust our courts.
Clouding the CCJ referendum campaign with a host of unrelated, or extremely marginally-related issues and yet-unfounded doubts, will never result in the outcome that I think we all desire.
And if these doubts have caused citizens to vote against a matter so important, do we then leave that matter there without examining the veracity of such doubts?
I suppose that vox populi is not always vox dei (well, that’s not even biblical anyway).
One wonders if we are being unduly overcautious… or if there are any hints of Stockholm Syndrome at work here.