Former Chief Justice Sir David Simmons is not about to let recent threats made by former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart against the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) die with the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government.
Unhappy with the quality of justice that the Trinidad-based CCJ had been dispensing, especially in relation to Barbados, Stuart, whose DLP was eventually ousted from power, had solemnly promised during the May 24 general election campaign that if re-elected to Government he would leave the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.
“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,” Stuart had stated at the time, while stating that “we went in first and we can come out first”.
He had also pointed 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 had also 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,” Stuart added.
However, while arguing strongly that the CCJ remained relevant, Sir David told a meeting of Men’s Education Support Association (MESA) at St Michael School on Thursday night that he was still trying to find out what Stuart would have replaced the CCJ with, “because he didn’t help us to what would have been the final appeal court”.
At the same time, Sir David, who is one of the leading regional proponents of the CCJ and who sat on the committee which established the regional court, warned that leaving the CCJ was not as easy as the former Prime Minister had made it seem.
“It would not be easy to withdraw Barbados from the CCJ if proper consideration or thought had been given to the statement. It would have become obvious that there are some heavy hurdles before you can withdraw from the court,” Sir David maintained.
Reading from Article 37 of the CCJ Treaty which established the court, he explained that “a contracting party may withdraw from this agreement by giving three years notice in writing to the depository, who shall promptly notify the other contracting parties accordingly and the withdrawal shall take effect five years after the date on which the notice has been received from the depository”.
The former Chief Justice further explained, “that [provision]was crafted to make it difficult for a state, which had committed [to the court], to withdraw for the same or similar reasons that may have informed the statement of the former Prime Minister”.
“If you are concerned that a judge said something, you write the President of the court and say what you have heard and you say that you don’t expect this type of behaviour, but you won’t withdraw a whole country from a court because a judge may have been callous in their remarks if it happened,” Sir David said.
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.
In defence of the court’s operations, Sir David argued that the CCJ improves the access of Caribbean nationals to justice, was cheaper than taking appeals to the London based Privy Council and was a step in the right direction in terms of breaking away from the UK-dependency syndrome.
“We used to be Eurocentric and looking to England for decisions telling us how the law should be applied and those decisions were note infused with any understanding of the Caribbean,” Sir David said, adding, “I think that to suggest that you should continue with the Privy Council because you don’t have to pay for the services is to proliferate an attitude of mendicancy that is an unworthy argument unbefitting of people who should be proud and confident of so many years of democracy.”
Simmons explained that to take a criminal case to the Privy Council the state’s bill was in the region of over £50,000 ,while it was way less for the CCJ, whose judgment takes into consideration the realities of the Caribbean.
“I know there are some people who aren’t happy with one or two of the [CCJ] judges [but] wherever you have legal issues that are novel you will get a divergence of intellectual power. We have seen in the CCJ that there has been dissenting judgments, but that ability to have a divergence of intellectual view is healthy,” Sir David suggested, adding that “we as Caribbean people are entitled to fashion our jurisprudence having regard for the norms, standards and culture of this region”.