Privy Council chooses the back seat on referendum campaign in Antigua and Barbuda

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The Privy Council says it is keeping out of Antigua and Barbuda’s education campaign ahead of the country’s November 6 referendum to determine whether to part ways or stay with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final court of appeal.
With just 13 days remaining after today before the electorate makes the choice, OBSERVER media asked the Council to discuss the pros and cons of Antiguans and Barbudans utilising the court, for how much longer the Council will remain operational, whether or not the U.K. stands to lose or gain anything economically from the departure of commonwealth countries from the apex court, and whether the Council thinks it is time for these countries to establish and move to their own final appellate court among other things..
The court’s Press Office, Head of Communications, Sophia Linehan-Biggs, responded via email, stating that the Privy Council will not speak to those issues.
She stated, “We do not comment on the specifics of such referendums,” and added, “The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is a service that is there for countries that want to use it, for as long as they wish to.”
According to Linehan-Biggs, the court would not get into the pros and cons because, “The JCPC does not lobby, persuade or participate in discussions with countries about whether to stay or go. Whether the individual country concerned wishes to continue using the service is a matter for determination by the peoples of those countries.”
On the question of economic impact, she said, “I am afraid we are not in a position to comment. Instead, I think your questions should be directed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and would recommend contacting their press office.”
Linehan-Biggs provided contact information for that office, whose press officer Alexandra Wilson late yesterday responded to the same questions broadly saying, “It is up to the government and people of the country concerned to decide whether to retain the services of the JCPC.”
She did not comment any further.
In order for the constitutional referendum to succeed to allow for the change to the Caribbean Court of Justice, a two-thirds majority vote in needed.
The JCPC is the current final court of appeal for a number of Commonwealth countries, the crown dependencies, and United Kingdom overseas territories.
The jurisdiction of the Privy Council originates from Norman times but the present constitution of the JCPC is based on the Judicial Committee Act 1833.
In the 1920s, the JCPC was said to be the final court of appeal for more than a quarter of the world, including countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. When the British Empire became the Commonwealth of Nations, many countries established their own ‘Supreme Court’ to serve as their final court of appeal. However, some chose to retain their legal links with the United Kingdom and the JCPC.
In the twentieth century, the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council shrank considerably, as British Dominions established their own courts of final appeal and as British colonies became independent, although many retained appeals to the Privy Council post-independence.
Canada abolished Privy Council appeals in 1949, India and South Africa in 1950, and New Zealand in 2003. Currently, 12 Commonwealth countries outside of the United Kingdom retain Privy Council appeals, in addition to various British and New Zealand territories.
So far, four out of 12 countries from within CARICOM, which signed the Agreement to establish the CCJ, have terminated the relationship with the Privy Council as the final appellate court.
However, those countries did not require a referendum to make the move.
Two other countries, which require referendums, conducted the exercise but failed to meet the two-thirds support (66.6 percent of the voter turnout) requirement as stipulated in their Constitution, which was actually handed down by the British.
The Caribbean Court of Justice began operating 13 years ago, and already it is an itinerant court (court that travels and sits in various jurisdictions).
The CCJ is two courts in one and has two functions: an Original Jurisdiction, which deals with the right to move between CARICOM countries freely and the right to move one’s money and business. This is the basis of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
And, then there’s the Appellate Jurisdiction, to hear appeals from courts of those countries that decide to use it for this reason.
All CARICOM Member States who have signed the Agreement Establishing the CCJ are Members of the CCJ.

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