Attorney at law, Ralph Francis has come out in support of the call by Vincentian prime minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves for Antiguans and Barbudans to vote positively for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the upcoming referendum.
“I have no difficulty with him …. I don’t see why anyone should have a difficulty in him putting forward his views on this matter in Antigua,” Francis said in a telephone contribution to the Voice of the People programme on OBSERVER Radio yesterday Francis stressed that he has the greatest respect for Dr. Gonsalves, whom he first saw when he came to an African Liberation celebration and was refused entry into the country. He said that his next encounter with Dr. Gonsalves was when he was reading law in England and Dr. Gonsalves was doing “his Bar” and they coincidentally met on three consecutive occasions and as president of the Afro Caribbean Society, he requested of Dr. Gonsalves to give a lecture to the society and Dr. Gonsalves readily agreed.
According to Francis, he introduced Dr. Gonsalves as the future prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the lecture, and his words turned out to be prophetic.
Francis said that he had been listening to the various views on radio and he is not impressed with any of the arguments proffered against Antigua and Barbuda making the CCJ the country’s final court of appeal so he thought it was time that he “jumped into the fray”.
He said that he was not concerned about the CCJ being able to dispense justice, rather, he is concerned about people’s emphasis on trust and “cleaning up our yard first”.
Pointing out that the Privy Council is “our highest court”, Francis said that “we hear people speaking about all of the problems we have in our judicial system, the Magistrates Court, the High Court, and the Court of Appeal. He then asked, what has the Privy Council done to eradicate the problems that we have?” before answering, “Absolutely nothing.”
Pointing out that Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the CCJ by virtue of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, Francis noted that the country is committed to take legal matters to the CCJ. He, however, noted that, so far, Antigua and Barbuda has not been required to take any case to the CCJ.
He further stated that he is aware that the CCJ has introduced and proposed programmes that have been beneficial to the court system of Antigua and Barbuda but he has not heard anyone mention that.
He added that he is not aware of anything that the Privy Council has done to improve the efficiency of the local court system.
The veteran lawyer also said: “The other thing is this … we have less cases proportionately going from our Court of Appeal to the Privy Council, which is our highest court than the English have from their court of appeal to their highest court which is the U.K. Supreme Court.
Pointing out that many people have stated that Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica “are not a part of it”, Francis expressed frankly that when it comes to regional matters, those two countries are followers and not leaders.
“You will recall that it was Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica that mashed up the Federation. When there was a move afoot to get the islands coming together, how did that happen? It happened with Barrow, Bird and Burnham meeting here at Dickenson Bay and starting what today is CARICOM. We don’t need all of them.
“The fact of the matter, though, all of the parties to the Treaty of Chaguaramas, CARICOM, are members of the CCJ.
He said that should one compare the English Court of Appeal and the cases that go to the UK Supreme Court with our Court of Appeal and cases that go to the Privy Council, proportionately more cases that go to the UK Court of Appeal are overturned than cases that go from the OECS Court of Appeal to the Privy Council. According to him the disparity is because “we get good judgments”.
He said that most people who are criticising the proposed move to the CCJ “have not a clue about what they speak”.
“Let me tell you, I haven’t heard anybody yet come and say how many cases go to our Court of Appeal. I know I have been hearing it said that in the last 30 years forty-seven cases went to the Privy Council. But what has not been said is a large or vast majority of those cases, judgment has been given for the eventual winner in either the High Court or the Court of Appeal. It’s no to say that everybody got it all wrong all the time. There are cases where both courts erred.
“But there was a time when the House of Lords, the highest court in England ruled that their decision that they made was cast in iron; they would never review their decision. But they came to a point where they realised that even they made mistakes and they had to change the rule.”
He candidly opined that the question of trust “amounts to white people more trust worthy than black people, white people not going to be wrapped up by politicians, everything is wrong with black people … and we are too close to each other”.
To debunk those arguments, he gave the analogy of a family member providing fair and objective mediation between two disputing family members. “If you can do that within the family, okay, why would a judge find it difficult amongst people, even if he knows, who are not blood related to him? I just don’t understand that issue.”
Francis further compared the reservations expressed by many to the fear that children have of “jumbie” stories.
Pointing out that four countries, Guyana, Belize, Barbados and the Commonwealth of Dominica are members of the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, he asked: “Have you heard them say that jumbie really exists?”