Two established members of the local legal fraternity have slammed Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s plan to break from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Barbados’ final appellate court.
According to Andrew Pilgrim, QC, this move is “poorly thought out and a retrograde step,” which would mean that justice for the average Barbadians would rest solely in the hands of Judges appointed by the Prime Minister. He also noted that this could have serious implications for transparency of recourse for the average citizen against the Government.
“When one looks at the high quality decisions and the access to justice that has resulted from the CCJ, I would regard the comments as unfortunate and a retrograde step. I can’t imagine that the Prime Minister soberly thought that this was something that would be appropriate to do. I think this is something that just happens during political meetings so that they can get people to clap and jump up,” Pilgrim said.
“It would mean that people of Barbados would have no real appellate court and this is vital especially in a country where judges are appointed by the Prime Minister. However, as I said before, I believe it is just talk because there is no way this could have been soberly thought out.”
Also commenting on the development, fellow attorney David Comissiong said Stuart was treading in very dangerous waters.
Comissiong contended that Stuart’s decision seemed to be precipitated by the CCJ’s recent decision to uphold the ruling by Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson and the Supreme Court of Barbados, to allow qualified Commonwealth nationals to vote in the May 24 general elections. He argued that Stuart’s administration has already shown a propensity to ignore the rulings of the local judiciary and Barbadians should shudder at the thought of an final appellate system hand picked by him.
“Barbadians ought to be very concerned about a situation where this regime would have no independent outside body to call them to order. It would be a very dangerous state of affairs. This would have severe implications for ordinary Barbadian citizens to have justice in relation to their government,” Comissiong said.
Stuart, who made the disclosure at a DLP meeting in Eagle Hall, St Michael, while not going into details, cited disrespect from the Port-of-Spain-based court and the limited number of cases being brought before it.
“I want to say this, Barbados is not going back to the Privy Council because we are not going backward, life goes not backward or tarries with yesterday. But once the Democratic Labour Party is re-elected to office, I am determined, to put Barbados on the same level as every other CARICOM country by de-linking from the Caribbean Court of Justice in its appellate jurisdiction. We went in first and we can come out first,” Stuart said.
“That court had heard two cases for the year, two cases for the year, one from Barbados and one from Guyana.”
Stuart said he wants to make it clear that he is not commenting on the decisions of the CCJ, noting that as an officer of the court and as a lawyer, he respect the decisions that courts make.
“When I’ve disagreed with them I appeal them. But, I’m not going to have Barbados disrespected by any politicians wearing robes, it is not going to happen. And I spoke about this privately to the present president of the Caribbean Court of Justice. I don’t want to influence any decisions, I don’t care what they decide,” Stuart said.
“I think that the attitude coming from Port of Spain leaves much to be desired in terms of how its treating Barbados and I am not going to have a situation where other countries in the Caribbean keep a safe, safe distance from that court while Barbados supports its.”
However Pilgrim dismissed Stuart’s argument as a non-starter, stressing that it should not matter which countries have signed on to the CCJ. Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY that since coming into existence, the CCJ has delivered high quality decisions, which have only served to improve the Barbadian justice system.
“It really should not matter who has signed because the CCJ has helped us to develop our jurisprudence. Cases like the Shanique Myrie matter has helped to develop how we should treat CARICOM and I think that anything that allows us to improve how we treat people is a good thing. So I cannot accept Stuart’s argument,” Pilgrim stressed.