By Douglas Leys
Each of the two courts of final appeal that are utilised by the independent countries of Caricom — the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) — has recently been tasked with adjudicating on matters of high importance for the social and political development of the region.
Petitioners from Guyana sought the ruling of their most superior court, the CCJ, on an issue that impacts to the highest degree on the outcome of general elections held in March of this year. The subject matter involved is of deep significance to the maturity of the region. The question was filed, heard, and disposed of by the court within days, completely under a regional umbrella.
Submissions from both sides of the issue were presented by advocates from among the regional legal fraternity; the issues were heard and deliberated upon by judges from the region; and those judges, lest we forget, had been placed in those prominent positions on the Bench upon the recommendation of eminent individuals from the region.
In the other instance, it has been reported that a matter from Jamaica concerning a 14-year-old 2006 Trafigura campaign donation to the People’s National Party (PNP), also of great public importance touching on the conduct of our political affairs within the region, is to be heard by our final court of appeal, the Privy Council, on March 1, 2021.
The authorities in Jamaica are obviously content in this year 2020 with issues, including questions relating to the financing of our political parties, being argued, deliberated, and finally ruled upon in a British court on the other side of the Atlantic.
And any such exercise, of course, attracts considerable expenditure.
The arguments before the Privy Council will be presented by lawyers either from England or from Jamaica. And, should there be the need for Jamaican attorneys to travel to London, there is no escaping the cumbersome requirement of having to obtain visas as a condition of being able to gain audience before one of our courts.
Both Guyana and Jamaica contribute to the Trust Fund that was established to undergird the proper functioning and upkeep of the regional court. The authorities in Guyana received the answer to their petition within days, a far cry from the reported promise of seven months hence, for the issues from Jamaica to be heard.
It is abundantly clear that the authorities in Guyana, along with those in Barbados, Belize, and Dominica, in the best interests of their people, have embraced the wisdom of the strong suggestion made in that March 1901 The Gleaner editorial, to which reference was recently made in tribute to the late Oliver Clarke.
From as early as those colonial times, clients and lawyers were “questioning the expediency of the continuation” of appeals to the Privy Council. That “feeling”, the editorial recorded, was “exaggerated by the cumbersome procedure in connection with the court, the delays that are occasioned [and] the expense incurred”.
Have the disadvantages, as identified and laid out by those thinking men some 120 years ago, not long become apparent for the authorities in Jamaica to join together in having these stumbling blocks to access to our highest court removed from the path of the people they are sworn to serve?
In addition to this, is the fact that given the heightened consciousness driven by the global strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement, the toppling of statues symbolising slavery and the reform of the Rhodes Scholarship programme, the abandonment of the Privy Council should be the foremost among these symbols of a colonial past.
A move to abandon the UK Privy Council could also give serious impetus to the reparation movement and galvanize the British public into thinking that it is by no means just about handouts or debts owed but a distinctly principled position. (Jamaica Observer)
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