Commentary: CCJ referenda: The verdicts are in. Should they be appealed?

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Mike Jarvis is a freelance journalist and commentator in London.

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.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. A poorly crafted, nonsensical piece which questions the democratic right of Caribbean citizens to choose their own fate.

    The writer even questions the legality of the Constitutions of these two countries — Antigua/Barbuda and Grenada — when he opines, “Should it have been a simple majority vote like Brexit?” when its citizens and governments freely and lawfully accepted a Constitution on their independence that clearly stipulates that a simple majority is not enough to alter these Constitutions.

    How can this writer possibly claim that, “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” given the overwhelming result of these two and other preceeding referenda? Unbelievable.

    If Great Britain should ever abolish these appeals to the Privy Council law lords, there are more trustworthy alternatives that could be selected as our final appellate courts such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, both United Nations courts headquartered in the Hague.

    The good people of Antigua/Barbuda and Grenada made a thoughtful judgement based on ample information and evidence on November 6 rejected a decision to abandon the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

    Shame on Mike Jarvis, a man who does even reside in the Caribbean, for questioning their decision and right to do so.

  2. I see no reason for people in the Caribbean to accept CCJ at this time. The first job should be to fix the local judiciary system, so folks can see fair, transparent and unbiased justice. Crime is rampant in many islands and the governments are unable to control it.
    The arguments to change the system have lots of holes and no guarantee that it can or will work for poor people. Today in SVG; women are abused, killed, raped and nothing is being done to stop these crimes. No one has gone out to show the people why they should vote for the CCJ.
    One of the biggest problems is the selection of judges for the CCJ. If the people have a say in the selection then they may consider the idea. Then there is the problem of “who pays the piper”.

  3. This article is written by someone who is quite ignorant of the constitutional law, which may vary from country to country.

    Writing about such things in total ignorance is inexcusable.

    A no vote is not appealable because it was a no vote, any more than it can be jor just being a yes vote.

    The UK has no constitution, only common law and case law, enacted statutory laws, and rules. Common law is made by sitting judges who apply both statutory law and established principles which are derived from the reasoning from earlier decisions. Not being a civil law system, English law has no comprehensive codification.

    Basically, the islands follow the British legal system of common law, and so does the United States. But with a difference, the rules from their constitutions must be followed and they override common law or statutory laws. So if Common or Statutory Laws are contrary to the Constitution, the constitution remedy always wins and takes preference.

    Yard boy. read the constitutions to know what carries the vote and what loses it. In the UK It is a ‘winner takes all’ system, a majority of even one vote wins all.

    Under most, if not all the ex British colonies constitutions, the winner is the party who take two thirds or more majority of the votes cast.

    You cannot compare BREXIT to what happens in the Caribbean.

    I think C.ben_David has adequately and correctly answered all the points you raise about final courts here and elsewhere should we no longer have the Privy Council. Perhaps David you will be good enough to repeat those options.

    You quite obviously choose to ignore the fact that Caribbean people do not trust the system and the judges chosen from local states to be impartial. Mainly because they see what has been going on in their own countries with the judiciary and any extension of that as an appeal court they quite simply believe must be tainted and blighted in the same way by the same people.

    Now with the call by Ralph Gonsalves for the islands to integrate with the ALBA members, British input will be needed even more as a backstop.

    Vincentians made a dreadful mistake when they left the British rule and became independent. We would be twice or perhaps 3 times better off today if we had stayed with them. Politicians of the day wanted out to give them the freedom they needed to steal more, and after they got independence they did just that. They are still doing it today, robbing us blind and seeking to have the Caribbean court of appeal for their own sakes, not for the sakes of the Caribbean people. Many of the Caribbean leaders are charlatans and are robbing their people and becoming stinking rich, with a finger in the pie of every project, skimming the proceeds. Election fixing and vote rigging are commonplace. Selling citizenships to crooks and terrorists, even the islands who do not have such schemes the leaders have still been doing just that, selling citizenships to crooks and terrorists.

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