Senator AJ Nicholson on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on the Jamaica Observer for reporting that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had five years ago indicated its willingness to hear cases in Jamaica.
Nicholson, the leader of Government business in the Upper House, also blasted the newspaper for questioning the Government’s opposition to having the electorate decide whether Jamaica should leave the United Kingdom-based Privy Council and accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the country’s final appeal court.
“Until recently, the Observer was the most strident supporter of Jamaica moving to the CCJ . . . after a case was lost in the court here, we hear something different, and we know what instructions were given to persons who work at the Observer, on an aeroplane, we know,” Senator Nicholson snapped, oblivious to the unease of Information Minister Senator Sandrea Falconer, who presided over a news conference.
The news conference was called to address the imbroligio between the Government and the Opposition over the suspension from the Senate of Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte last Friday.
Senate President Floyd Morris suspended Malahoo Forte for failing to furnish a copy of a letter from the Privy Council making the offer to sit in Jamaica.
Last Wednesday, the Observer reported the contents of the letter, dated April 16, 2010, sent to then Attorney General and Justice Minister Senator Dorothy Lightbourne by Privy Council’s Acting Registrar Louis di Mambro.
“Late last year, John Almeida of Messrs Charles Russell indicated that the Government of Jamaica wished to explore the idea of a visit by the Judicial Committee to conduct hearings in Jamaica on a future date,” di Mambro wrote.
“I am writing to let you know that Lord Phillips and Lord Hope would be delighted if a formal invitation were to be extended, say, for 2011,” di Mambro added.He said he had delayed writing to Lightbourne until they had an idea of the cost involved in the board’s first sitting overseas that year.
The Observer report had pointed out that the court’s offer ran counter to arguments put forward by Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding in the Upper House on October 16 as he opened the debate on three Bills related to the Government’s determination to make the CCJ Jamaica’s final appellate court.
Golding had argued that the vast majority of Jamaicans have been denied the right to appeal their cases to the Privy Council because it sits in London. He said that the Privy Council, for the most part, only hears appeals from two categories of Jamaicans – convicted murderers who are facing the death penalty, and “the wealthy individual or corporation in Jamaica that can afford the enormous costs, amounting to many tens of millions of dollars, that are required to take an appeal to the Privy Council.”
Added Golding: “The Privy Council is fundamentally inaccessible to most Jamaicans. Litigants and their counsel need visas to travel there, which are not available as of right.”
Last Thursday, in her contribution to the debate, Senator Malahoo Forte read from the letter and was asked to provide the Senate with a copy. She promised to do so the following day, but was suspended after she failed to present the copy.
Senator Golding has since said that the letter, which is now being circulated in the media, is nowhere to be found in the justice ministry’s records.
Senator Nicholson blasted the Observer for its page one editorial published last Friday that basically said that the decision to move to the CCJ should be taken by the electorate and not be left to 84 politicians. “The Observer produced what they called a front page editorial on Friday; it’s a prime example of why no country has ever had a referendum on this matter,” he said.
Nicholson described the editorial as “contemptuous of the judiciary in the Caribbean” adding: “They said that corruption, cronyism, school ties, business, and familial bonds – these connections and links which sometimes stretch from Jamaica to other islands of the Caribbean – too often conspire to determine the outcome of cases. Who is writing that to tell the world that we have corrupt judges in Jamaica and the Caribbean? How dare the Observer do that? You don’t link criminality to your judiciary.”
Added Nicholson: “We are not appropriating any rights onto ourselves. The Privy Council told us how you move from the Privy Council to that court [CCJ]. How dare they tell the Privy Council to go to hell! In the same way as the minister of justice or the attorney general cannot go to the Parliament and, say, pass this Bill by a simple majority, because they are obeying the rules laid down by the Privy Council, you can’t tell the Privy Council to go to hell with your judgement; we want a referendum.”
Story by: Althea Saunders (Senior Staff Reporter of The Jamaica Observer)