Caribbean media organizations have a major role to play in ensuring CARICOM countries make the Caribbean Court of Justice their final court of appeal.
So says CCJ president Sir Dennis Byron, who also thinks journalists share much responsibility for ensuring that member states live up to obligations agreed to in the revised Treaty Of Chaguramas, in which the 15 governments committed to a number of steps for regional integration. Sir Dennis’ charge to the media came during his contribution as a panellist at the just ended Inter-American Press Association mid-year conference on the topic Economic Development And The News Media In The Caribbean.
He believes the media as a group, and many individual journalists have made significant contributions to the welfare of CARICOM and the regional integration movement through the way information has been disseminated across the region. Damien King of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute and Ian Durant of the Caribbean Development Bank, were the other members of the panel moderated by Oliver Clarke of The Gleaner newspaper.
Sir Dennis touched on the British Privy Council to which ten members still seek recourse as their final court of appeal.
“It also merits contrasting the issues of access to justice, because whereas only governments, rich corporations, the rich elite have access to the Privy Council, ordinary folk have been accessing the CCJ as its final appellate jurisdiction . . . . And I think the media is well placed to facilitate these types of debates in our arena.”
The CCJ president is of the view that the current delay in some member states in accessing the final appellate jurisdiction of the court could be arrested if civil society were to express itself more articulately and consistently to give assurances that the public is more than ready for this inevitable step to occur, and to occur now. Further pressing a case for the other CARICOM countries to come on board, Sir Dennis pointed out that the CCJ was a financially viable independent entity, having been established with the provision of US$100 million provided jointly by member states as a seed fund, and now exists on its own with no dependence on any government or organization.
He noted that at the end of the last financial year the fund balance was in excess of $100 million, although the court had been funded to the extent of $47 million during the last nine years. Sir Dennis added that yet some countries found themselves in the curious position of [having paid] for a court that they are not using.
Sir Dennis, a former president of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, spoke of similarities between the media and the judiciary.
“Like the judiciary, the Press serves society best when it is completely independent of political control . . . . Both the judiciary and the Press seek to maintain good governance and the rule of law.”
He questioned whether the media had done enough in this regard, noting that the CCJ had a policy of disseminating information about its work, “and is looking to the media to assist in providing the public with more information”.