We are repeatedly asked, “What is your objection to the CCJ?” To set the record straight, we do not have an objection to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in principle, we simply have concerns on key issues regarding our judicial maturity, the perceptions of independence and the financing of the court; among other things.
We are also concerned that the issues are not being addressed and the current education programme is less about presenting a balanced view in order to encourage debate and more about rhetoric and propaganda. But we will get to those issues at another time because today, we want to touch on CCJ, CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and Caribbean unity as well as our desire to overlook the basics while we seek the next, shiny new object.
To begin, we must all accept that our survival in this ever-changing world will require us to band together across the region in order to face the challenges ahead as one. That is a Herculean task as we, as a Caribbean community, are far from united in our approach. There are always rivalries that undermine the required cohesiveness of the region and our ability to succeed as one bloc. Whether it is the ever-present big island versus small island arguments, or the ‘who contributes more than who’ debate that rages in all joint endeavours. These are the things that killed the West Indies Federation and these are the things that jeopardise our progress towards unity today.
Unfortunately, money is the driver of our world. We say, “unfortunately,” because money is also the root of all evil. When we examine our unity we can use three institutions for evaluation: LIAT, The University of the West Indies (UWI) and Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC). All good intentions aside, each of these entities suffers from a lack of adequate financing and unity. In fact, it can be argued that the lack of financial participation by some sow the seeds of disunity within the collective. The financial woes at LIAT and UWI are well known, but those of the ECSC, not so much. By all accounts the ECSC is owed over $20 million by its members. Former attorney general, Justin Simon QC, pegged the total indebtedness to the court as at January 2017, at $27,501,000. That is a lot of money outstanding to the court that directly impacts its ability to do a proper job of dispensing justice.
The glaring problem is, we have had decades to get it right, with each of these institutions and yet, we have not done so. Despite these challenges, we have decided that now is the best time to jump into the CCJ, and for no obvious reason, we hope that something will change and we will get this one right; and, we have the money to get it right. This brings us to the point of always seeking the next, shiny, new object.
Right now, over 99 percent of our justice is handled in the lower courts and at the ECSC, but instead of getting those courts to function at an optimum level, we are spending time and resources on the CCJ which will dispense justice to less than 1 percent of cases. That’s time and resources that could be pumped into the existing courts to make them better. Why not get the basics right and then move on? Because, if we get the basics right, the burden on the CCJ would not be as great. If our lower courts are fixed, and people have confidence that the justice dispensed is timely and fair, then the CCJ will be welcomed, as it will be an extension of a properly functioning system. The perception by many, right now, is that the final court of appeal is a fix for inferior justice at the lower levels. It may be a perception but it is also some people’s reality.
This is very much like our rush to establish a UWI campus. There is nothing wrong with the concept but shouldn’t we get our primary and secondary public school education in order first? Shouldn’t we ensure that we can produce outstanding, suitable candidates for our local UWI campus before we build one? And shouldn’t we ensure that we can adequately fund our current public education system before we undertake the hefty responsibility of funding the high cost of a university? We always seem to forsake the basics for the glitz and glamorous headlines that the shiny, new objects garner.
Any building is only as strong as its foundation. It may look fabulous and may fill a purpose, but the weak foundation will eventually cause cracks in the facade before the problems begin to affect the structure and eventually cause it to collapse. So, if we cannot afford to build a proper foundation to support what is being built on top of it, should we continue with the construction? Or, should we reinforce what is weak first, so that we can ensure that whatever is built above can withstand the test of time and will not have to be condemned one day.