By Orville Williams
Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin has questioned Antigua and Barbuda’s sovereignty while ‘holding on’ to the Privy Council as the country’s final appellate court and called for another referendum to move the country to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
“We should look again, at the appropriate time, to get a referendum done to move this country to be under the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)”, he declared in Parliament on Tuesday.
Back in 2018, a referendum to make the move from the Privy Council to the CCJ failed to reach the required threshold, leaving many in the administration disappointed.
The government was depending on a two-thirds majority of those within the electorate who voted to be successful, but of the participating voters, 52 percent voted against the move and 48 percent voted for it.
Despite that result, Benjamin insists that the country cannot truly be considered sovereign unless it has complete control of the democratic process.
“No country can be sovereign except it controls the three pillars of democracy – the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
“It’s a disgrace that we still have to go to the Privy Council as our final court of appeal, and if that’s the case, we are not really a sovereign state at all,” he said, adding that “the Privy Council has good jurists of course, they have served us well, but we must develop our own Caribbean judiciary system.”
“Where are the forward-thinking people of this nation?” he asked.
Among the criticisms that the proposed switch to the CCJ has received is that there are not enough experienced and widely respected legal professionals available. This, Benjamin says, is definitely not the case.
“One cannot complain that we [don’t have] competent jurists, we do. Sir Dennis Byron is rated among the best in the world, he has sat in cases in Rwanda.
“We have other legal luminaries that have gone to the Privy Council and they have versed themselves as a result of arguments presented to them by Councils from the region.”
He also addressed concerns about how the small size of Caribbean countries could affect public perception of the CCJ, assuring that provisions were made in the initial stages of the body to preserve its sanctity.
It is not clear just when the next referendum on the matter could take place, but if the Attorney General’s enthusiasm is anything to go by, the government will certainly hope that the result is much different this time around.