by Emmanuel Joseph
Barbadians are “flooding” the eight year old Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice with substantially more appeals per year than they did under the now scrapped British Privy Council, as their final appellate tribunal.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY in the spacious and luxurious office of his Port of Spain headquarters, President of the CCJ Sir Dennis Byron revealed that the regional court, which has an original and appellate jurisdiction, had so far delivered about 70 appeal judgements Caribbean wide.
However, Sir Dennis disclosed that Barbados alone, had recorded a massive number of such cases before the court.
“It is very interesting when you talk about development (of the region). When you think in terms that only three countries — Guyana, Barbados and Belize, and Belize was just within the last three years — [subscribe to the appellate court, and you already have 70 cases, that’s quite a phenomenal number in that context,” the CCJ head declared.
“When you take into account, for example, what Barbados used to take to the Privy Council each year, we have calculated that the percentage increase from Barbados alone is 120 per cent more cases … coming to the CCJ, than used to go to the Privy Council already,” the top jurist announced.
But he said there was also another “very” significant difference.
“A large percentage of the cases from Barbados to the Privy Council were criminal cases … [but] the majority of cases that have come before us have not been criminal cases. They have been civil cases,” the CCJ president pointed out.
“So you find that ordinary citizens have been having greater access to tertiary appeal than they had before, when they … used the Privy Council.”
Sir Dennis said an examination of the litigants showed they were no longer just the state and big companies appealing to the regional tribunal.
“Now, the way I look at access is this. In terms of percentages., you have all these cases being tried in Barbados — magistrates court and high court. You have any idea how many cases are tried in Barbados every year? Thousands!” said the CCJ chief.
“Then out of all of that they used to have four and five or six with the Privy Council. So the Privy Council was not really impacting upon the people’s lives.
“And then you ask yourself: ‘Why was there so few cases going to the Privy Council?'” asked Sir Dennis rhetorically.
He then gave two answers to his question:
“For me, there could only be two reasons. One, people were satisfied with the quality of justice in Barbados. So even when people lost at the Court of Appeal, they felt, well … there was a level of acceptance.”
The alternative reason he submitted was that there were a lot of disgruntled people who wanted to appeal, but couldn’t afford it due to the prohibitive costs.
He said the role of the CCJ in the circumstances was critical for the facilitation of CARICOM nationals.
“Now where we come into it is…, first of all, I think we are giving an opportunity for people who wanted to have another appeal, as coming before us is not as costly as going to the Privy Council.”
However, Sir Dennis is certain the people of the Caribbean had yet another benefit.
“Because we are part of the region, we are here, we are in contact with the various interests. We have a role to play in helping to improve the quality of justice in each one of our countries.”
The top jurist gave the assurance that over time, Caribbean people may find that the court was becoming more closely involved in programmes of reform — legal and judicial. He said such reform would also include higher eduction and education for improvements to the existing legal systems in the region.
These, he reasoned, were some of the benefit which the CCJ was bringing to the table. Sir Dennis observed that many people did not realise the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas provided far more rights to Caribbean people than those enshrined in their domestic constitutions and laws.
“So the role we are playing in this type of jurisdiction has to do with the application of international legal standards to the benefit of the Caribbean citizens.”
Further strengthening his views on access, Sir Dennis revealed that the court has had cases dealing with a commercial interest, where manufacturers in the region used the tribunal to enforce the treaty promises to improve the economic development of the Caribbean, by making certain the regional exporters had greater access to their markets than people from outside of the area.
He referred to the just-ended case between Jamaican Shanique Myrie and the Barbados Government, where some of the argument offered sought to make the distinction between international law and domestic law.
Sir Dennis did not agree when questioned about the need to eliminated skeptics of the CCJ.
“I don’t think we have to get rid of the skeptics, frankly. I think we have to do our job. If we do our job properly and the press do your job by providing information about how the court is functioning, that is sufficient,” declared the Caribbean Court of Justice president.
Meanwhile, it was disclosed that two Barbadians, or at least one born here and a Kittitian who lived in this country for many years, were currently employed by the court. They are Jacinth Smith, the assistant librarian and Vaughn Halliday, the facilities manager. [email protected]