Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s controversial campaign promise to break with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Barbados’ final appellate court if his incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) were re-elected for a third straight term, is drawing criticism from Trinidad, where the court is based.
Senior counsel Israel Khan has dismissed Stuart’s comments as mere political grandstanding, while warning that such a move would amount to a retrograde step by the country, which abolished appeals to the London based Privy Council back in 2005.
“I think that it was talk on the political platform because it is almost impossible to pull Barbados back because they would have to have the necessary majority in Parliament.
“The Privy Council is also insisting that we [the Caribbean] go our way and it is people with an inferiority complex who insist that they go cap in hand back to the colonial masters and ask them to interpret our laws,” Kahn said during a televised interview in Port of Spain.
The CCJ, which was established in 2001 as the main judicial institution of the 15-member grouping, currently handles appeals from only four CARICOM member states, namely Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana, with the remainder, including Trinidad where the court is based, yet to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as their final appellate court.
The court also adjudicates disputes arising from the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
However, addressing a DLP meeting in Eagle Hall, St Michael, the Prime Minister, while not going into details, took issue with the operations of the court in its appellate jurisdiction.
He said: “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, while pointing out that the CCJ had heard two cases for the year, “one from Barbados and one from Guyana”.
And though not commenting on actual CCJ judgments, he made it clear that “ 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.
“[However], I think that the attitude coming from Port of Spain leaves much to be desired in terms of how it is 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 it,” the Prime Minister added.
However, Khan disagreed with Stuart’s assessment of the CCJ, while suggesting that it was a case of sour grapes given recent judgments of the court that went against his administration.
“I am one million per cent sure that Barbados is not going anywhere. That is just a political statement. Barbadians have better sense than that. I think the present Government is just peeved that the Caribbean Court of Justice made some decisions against that particular administration,” the senior Trinidadian attorney stressed.
Over the weekend Barbadian Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim also reacted strongly to Stuart’s planned pull out saying it was “poorly thought out and a retrograde step,” which would mean that justice for the average Barbadian would rest solely in the hands of judges appointed by the Prime Minister.
“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, who appeared on an Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) political platform this weekend and strongly endorsed the Mia Mottley-led BLP, said Stuart was treading 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 the Stuart administration had already shown a propensity to ignore the rulings of the local judiciary, adding that Barbadians should shudder at the thought of a final appellate system handpicked by him.
In her reaction, Mottley, while sharing the position taken by Comissiong, said she was “ashamed of my Prime Minister” over the CCJ decision.
The confident BLP leader also said that when elected on Thursday, her administration would appoint two more High Court judges to address the backlog of criminal and civil cases in the court system. This, she said, would address one of the main criticisms of the CCJ about the local judiciary.