As Antigua and Barbuda celebrated its 37th anniversary of political independence from Britain yesterday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne asserted that independence would not be further advanced if the judicial system of the twin island state is still under the control of the London based Privy Council.
This year’s independence celebration has come five days before a referendum to determine whether Antigua and Barbuda retains the Privy Council or
chooses the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the country’s final court of appeal.
There has been much public and media discussion for and against retaining the Privy Council or moving to the CCJ as the country’s apex court, and the debate has intensified as the November 6 date for the referendum draws closer.
In a radio and television broadcast, the prime minister noted that there are citizens, who vehemently oppose Antigua and Barbuda accepting the CCJ as the country’s final appellate court.
He said that those dissenting voices know but refuse to point out “that only the wealthy or specially funded persons can access appeals to the British Privy Council even up to today. They know that it costs more than EC $150,000 on average to take a case to London and that no poor person in Antigua and Barbuda has ever been able to do so”.
The prime minister added that “by retaining the Privy Council they are depriving the ordinary citizens of our country justice to which every one of them is rightly entitled.
“They also know that access to justice is affordable with the Caribbean Court of Justice. That is a fully and independent appellate court. It is funded by a trust fund, not directly by any government. No government has a hand in the appointment of judges, they are appointed by an independent Caribbean legal services commission.”
The CCJ was established in 2001 and one of the court’s primary functions is pronouncing judgements in terms of trade disputes as it interprets the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in relation to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), and is also available to serve as the highest court of appeals on civil and criminal matters for CARICOM countries.
However, only four CARICOM member states – Guyana, Barbados, Belize and the Commonwealth of Dominica – have accepted the CCJ as their final court of appeal.
Nevertheless, in making his pitch for the CCJ, Prime Minister Browne stressed that it is necessary for Antiguans and Barbudans to remember the country’s history and its people’s struggle through the trade union movement for a better life and the right to self determination, acquiring – Adult Suffrage – the right to vote before the country attained political independence from Great Britain.
He said that in the 13 years since the CCJ has been in operation, it “has handed down more decisions against governments than for them”.
He stressed: “They know that the CCJ is a court for the people, built by Caribbean people for all the people. But it suits them even in this 37th year of our independence to deny our people pride in who we are and what we are, and to make us as inferior by suggesting that we do not have the integrity to preside over our own dispensation of justice”.
Prime Minister Browne further stated that this “type of self-hatred and condemnation of our own has no place in our modern and enlightened society”.
He called on the electorate to show the naysayers and others on November 6, “that we believe in ourselves, that we are the inferior of none, that we have confidence in our capacity and certainly in our own”.
“We must show them they are the backward looking ones mired in partisan politics and selfishness.”