All eyes on the CCJ

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The ‘cultural sensitivities’ of the the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is expected to become evident in the not too distant future as it sets itself to pronounce judgement on a case in Guayana which is challenging the constitutionality of a law that criminalises the wearing of attire of a different gender, in public, for  what the law describes a an “improper purpose”.
The ruling is being eagerly anticipated by everyone across the region, especially the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).  Many had thought that the CCJ would have made a proclamation on the matter already but in a tweet on its official Twitter account, the organization said that it had noted “that there is some miscommunication regarding the McEwan, Seon Clarke, Joseph Fraser, Seyon Persaud versus the Attorney General of Guyana matter” and that “the date for the judgment is not yet set.”  That means for all those waiting, the wait just got a bit longer.
If you are not following the case, here is the short version.  Back in 2009, several trans women were arrested and convicted of the offence of being a ‘being a man, and in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appearing in female attire.’  The charges and convictions were made under the 1893 Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act. Yes, 1893 – a law more than a century old that finds its roots in an old vagrancy law that can traced to a consolidation of criminal laws in the colony of British Guiana in 1893.  They spent three nights in police detention in Georgetown.
            One year later, McEwan, Clarke, Fraser, Persaud and the SASOD brought an action
challenging the constitutionality of the law and protested the treatment of the appellants during the legal process.  In the first instance, the High Court of Guyana held that ‘cross-dressing’ in and of itself is not a crime, however, the court disagreed that the 1893 law was discriminatory.  As well, the judge in the case recommended to the appellants that they should attend church and give their lives to Christ which they considered a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of thought, expression and religious beliefs.  
The case was appealed to the Guyana Court of Appeal and ultimately to the CCJ.  There is sits after hearing arguments from both sides,while the region waits. This is a significant case, not only because of the legal arguments, but also from the perspective of cultural sensitivities which has been one of the arguments for the CCJ.  Will the CCJ adhere to a traditional, trans-phobic attitude of the Caribbean or will they adjust their judgements to reflect the more global acceptance of the community?
            This will be one to watch because it is not just the region that will be watching to see if the CCJ reflects their ‘cultural sensitivity’ but also the world, as they watch  to see if we have progressed from 1893. The implications, no matter the ruling, will have serious consequences. If the CCJ rules for the appellants in this case, there is no doubt that there is a segment of the wider Caribbean community that will say that their faith in a more culturally sensitive court has been betrayed.  To counter that, the international community will likely welcome the decision and their faith in the CCJ may be bolstered.
On the flip side, if the CCJ rules against the appellants, the opposite will occur.  Traditionalist, if we are allowed to use that word, will applaud the court for their cultural sensitivity while the world will likely shake its head at the decision and the court.  This has its downsides because if the outside world does not have faith in our final court of appeal then they will not have faith in our judicial system as a whole. And, if they lose that faith, it will directly impact investment.  
All eyes are on the CCJ because this case will likely result in a label being applied.  The question is, will that label be reflective of a court that is cultural sensitive and grounded in ‘traditional values’ as it has been hyped or will it be one that the world views as progressive and considerate of a changing world?  It is a tough one to call but that is what final courts of appeal are there for.
For easy reference we have posted the Guyana Court of Appeal judgement if you are interested in learning more about the case.

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