What’s politics gotta do with it?

In Saint Lucia last month the OECS appeal court ruled 2-1 in favor of an Attorney General’s Review that sought to establish as fact the suspicion that the island’s constitution contained “a typographical error” that left the government no choice but to seek first the people’s permission via a referendum, determined as it is to dump the Privy Council as our country’s court of last resort.

Now that the court has given the government the green light, ruled in effect that the government does not require the people’s vote on the matter, this island’s prime minister has been telling reporters outside our shores about his plans to replace the Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, following discussions with the British government.

“Once that is completed,” Saint Lucia’s prime minister told Jamaican reporters last week, “we will introduce enabling legislation to become a member of the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, like Barbados, like Guyana.”

While most Caribbean Community countries retain the Privy Council as their final court, only Barbados, Guyana and Belize are CCJ signatories.

Although I have sought the advice of several local legal eagles, I have been unable to establish whether the recent appeal court decision affects the earlier requirement of a two-thirds vote in the House before the government can affect the sought-after change.

Interestingly, the Saint Lucian prime minister is reported also to have told the Jamaica Observer, while referencing last month’s appeal court ruling, that there was “good political reason” for the sub-regional OECS to move forward to the CCJ as a united body. Ironically, the people of the territories that would prefer to stay with the Privy Council say their reluctance is rooted in their distrust of their political leaders, whom they say have too much influence over their courts!

Meanwhile, the House opposition leader

Stephenson King this week told the STAR he and the prime minister had exchanged no words relative to his announced talks with the British government on the Privy Council-CCJ situation.

Two months ago the Jamaica Labour Party

warned the government it should not expect support from opposition legislators in the Senate as the country moves to embrace the CCJ. The JLP wants a referendum on the CCJ, which the government says it does not support.

According to an Observer report: “Recently the president of the Jamaican Bar Association Ian Wilkinson called on the political parties to intensify their discussions regarding the CCJ. He also dismissed the notion of a referendum.”

The paper quoted the JBA president as saying: “Why should we have a referendum when the JLP, the second major player in the parliament, says it supports and

accepts the CCJ? Of course I want my people to choose its court but the two major parties right now that represent the people have agreed the CCJ should be the final court. Why then should we need a referendum?”

Trinidad’s prime

minister has been reported as having said soon after taking office in 2010 that “there are more important issues that will engage our time and our money than determining whether to move away from the Privy Council today or tomorrow.”

Since then Prime Mininister Persad-Bissessar has evidently had a change of heart, albeit under pressure. Last April she was quoted as saying “the time is right this year . . . we will table legislation acceding to the criminal appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.”

Among her reasons for retaining the Privy Council for civil cases is that it was “conducive to an investor-friendly climate at a time when the international economic order is changing and Trinidad and Tobago is attempting to woo foreign investments from the Brics countries.”


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