Belizean prime minister Dean Barrow today came to the defence of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), while taking a shot at naysayers who attempt to cry down the court.
Addressing the swearing in ceremony of new CCJ president Adrian Saunders of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barrow also questioned the reluctance of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member countries to make the regional institution their final court of appeal.
It was a direct challenge to his host, Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness, whose country has refused to adopt the CCJ as its final appellate court, but also to the remaining leaders gathered in Montego Bay, Jamaica for their 39th summit, and who have yet to join the court in its appellate jurisdiction.
Of the 15 countries that are full members of CARICOM, only Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana have made the CCJ their final court of appeal.
“To this day naysayers remain, and even to this day membership of the court’s appellate jurisdiction is less than optimum,” Barrow told the swearing in ceremony, while stating that Saunders’ appointment “underscores the certainty that, growing pains notwithstanding, our CCJ is here to stay and it gives a chance to celebrate the accomplishment and triumphs”.
“Whatever criticisms may still be aimed at the court no one can doubt the breadth of its scholarship and the depth of its reasoning. I say this as one whose administration has suffered several reversals at the court’s hands. I am never the less happy to proclaim my complete confidence in the court,” the Belizean leader added.
When Barbados joined the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who today addressed the opening of the CARICOM summit as the region’s newest leader, was part of the then Barbados Labour Party administration led by then Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
Mottley, who immediately following her swearing in on May 25 said the CCJ represented “one of the best examples of Independence” in a court across the entire globe, is a strong supporter of the court.
However, her predecessor, then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, had shortly before the election, vowed to quit the court if his Democratic Labour Party were re-elected.
Clearly upset by a number of decision by the CCJ that went against his administration, Stuart described the judges as “politicians wearing robes” who were disrespecting Barbados.
It was not the first time that Stuart had criticized the CCJ, having previously accused the region’s highest court of slandering the island after it issued a series of reprimands on the delays in the criminal justice system here.
Barrow today made no mention of Stuart, but in describing Saunders as a judicious man of towering intellect and refinement and culture, he insisted that regional governments had “no need [to] fear judicial bullying or even discourtesy”.
Meantime Holness, who gave no indication that his country would sign on to the CCJ as its final court of appeal any time soon, spoke of the importance of a properly functioning court to regional integration.
“It is beyond debate that a well functioning Caribbean Court of Justice is vital to creating and maintaining a regional community which works for all its members and for all our peoples,” Holness said as he recalled the highly publicized case involving Jamaican Shanique Myrie, in favour of whom the CCJ ruled back in 2011 and awarded US $38,620 in damages, after she sued the Barbados Government claiming that on March 14, 2011, she was made to undergo a painful and humiliating body cavity search by a Barbadian border official upon her arrival at the Grantley Adams International Airport. She was subsequently deported.
Prior to his ascension to the post of CCJ President, Saunders served as acting Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, before being appointed as a judge of the CCJ in 2005.
Today, he said the region had no good reason to doubt its ability to grasp full responsibility for interpreting and applying its own laws.
“It is remarkable and regrettable that there are still some who have misgivings about the region’s capacity to discharge that responsibility in an efficient and effective manner,” Saunders said.