“It is not a question of nationality!”
A regional jurist today rubbished criticisms emanating from within Barbados that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is currently being administered by citizens of countries –– including her native Trinidad and Tobago where the court is headquartered –– which have simply refused to sign on to the CCJ as their court of last resort.
Pointing out that her grandfather, who was a “Weekes”, was Guyanese-born with Bajan roots, Trinidadian-born Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee declared to participants at a regional workshop for senior newspaper editors on the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy (CSME) in Port of Spain that she was Bajan too.
In fact, she was very insistent that the matter of the appointment of judges to serve on the CCJ panel, was not one of jurisdiction. Therefore, she argued strongly that any concern about where a judge received his/her birth certificate was simply irrelevant.
“I can’t see the logic in the exercise, where you examine where a judge is from, if we are all CARICOM people and if we are all going towards one aim, which is regional integration,” she told the gathering, which also included several senior regional officials.
“I am part of the CARICOM. I am a child too, just like you, from Barbados,” she said in response to a question posed by Barbados TODAY. “In fact, I have Bajan, Guyanese, Trinidad and I am married to a man with Grenadian roots, so I like to look at it as we are all one,” she added.
Just recently, Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss questioned why no Barbadian judge could find a place on the bench of the CCJ, despite the fact that it was the first CARICOM country to sign up to the regional court and submit itself to its full jurisdiction.
Speaking in Parliament, the outspoken Inniss also said he was “deeply troubled by the absence of Barbadians on the CCJ and by the fact that the court “was being administered by citizens of countries who have refused and find all kinds of excuses not to have the CCJ as their final court of appeal”.
However, Justice Lee has responded to those concerns saying: “I do not think you have to have come from Barbados or Guyana or Belize or Dominica [which are the four regional territories that have fully acceded to the court] to be a good judge of the CCJ.”
“Quite frankly, the CCJ has two jurisdictions – it has an appellate and it has an original,” she explained, noting that the majority of member states – including Trinidad and Tobago – participated in the court in its original jurisdiction, where the CCJ is specifically mandated to resolve disputes arising from the CSME.
As a judge of the CCJ, Justice Lee said she was just as concerned about what occurred in Bridgetown as she was about what took place in Georgetown. “I went to Belize and I had dukkah and I had it boil up with stew pork and stew chicken. I say that to say despite the fact that we are separated by water, we are all pretty much alike when it comes to the fact that as a people, we need justice and we need our own people to administer that justice.”
Recently, the Port of Spain-based court has also been stoutly criticized by Barbadian Queen’s Counsels Hal Gollop and Vernon Smith who, in a recent interview with Barbados TODAY, said they were both “flabbergasted” by some of the judgments handed down by the regional court.
In a further blow to the CCJ, two former regional prime ministers – Sir James Mitchell and Basdeo Panday – said yesterday during a panel discussion in Port of Spain that there needed to be a national referendum on whether Trinidad should replace the British Privy Council with the CCJ.
Arguing that the public had lost confidence in the country’s justice system, Panday, who served as the fifth prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago between 1995 and 2001 and had previously spoken of the need for such a regional court, said by involving the people in the decision there would be a stronger sense of ownership and faith in the CCJ.
Sir James, who led St Vincent and the Grenadines between 1984 and 1998, has also urged the oil-rich twin island republic to think seriously about such a move to do away with the London based law lords.
However, Gladys Young, the senior legal officer in the Barbados-based CARICOM Single Market Unit, questioned whether the current regional narrative should be about “CCJ versus Privy Council ten years after the CCJ has been around”. “Is it that the persons who are having concerns or are speaking out are concerned about how judgments are written or how they have been written, or is it just that it didn’t go their way?” she asked.
She was also just as insistent as Justice Lee was today that the nationality of the judges should not be a concern in terms of who sits on the court. “What should always be first and foremost is qualifications and I don’t think that anyone can doubt the qualifications of the persons who are sitting on the Caribbean Court of Justice,” she said.
She noted that Netherlands-born Justice Jason Wit and United Kingdom-born Justice David Hayton, who currently sit on the court, were not CARICOM nationals, while stressing that “what we are concerned with is having the top persons on the court”.
General Secretary of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers Wesley Gibbings also weighed in on the controversial issue. He said the Shanique Myrie case, in which a Jamaican national won her case against Barbados even though her island had not yet signed on to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, proved that there could be no discrimination within CARICOM on the basis of nationality.