“A painful embarrassment” is how President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Justice Adrian Saunders, has described current resistance by 11 of the 15 CARICOM members states to making CCJ their court of last resort.
Delivering the feature address during the evening session of the two-part graduation ceremony at the Cave Hill Campus over the weekend, Justice Saunders did not call names as he tore into CARICOM member nations who continue to use the British Privy Council to interpret the law of their lands despite the regional organization establishing the CCJ for that purpose.
“It was absolutely perplexing to me that so many people in the region contrive to find excuse upon excuse to justify the anomaly that after 50 years of political independence the laws that we proudly make in our own parliaments should ultimately be interpreted and applied by a British institution, staffed with British judges all of whom reside in Britain,” he said Saturday after being conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
While the CCJ is the final authority for all 15-member nations on any aspect of the Revised Treaty of Chagauramas that established CARICOM, only Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica have subscribed to the court’s jurisdiction for final appeals.
The other CARICOM states, except Haiti and Suriname, continue to grant appellate jurisdiction to the British ‘law lords’— the Judicial Committee Privy Council, a body of the UK House of Lords.
Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines are currently in campaigns to convince the electorate to vote in plebiscites to make the CCJ their final court of appeal.
Another CARICOM territory, Montserrat, still a British Overseas Territory, must therefore resort to the London-based court.
Saunders’ comments came against the backdrop of former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s last-ditch promise to take Barbados out of the CCJ during the campaign for the May 24 general elections.
With his defeat at the polls, Prime Minister Mia Mottley assured CARICOM the Barbados Labour Party Government had no intention of removing the court’s jurisdiction for final appeals.
Saunders told hundreds in the graduating class of 2018 of the importance of having “self-belief, a clear sense of ourselves, an understanding of our work as human beings and of our ability to forge our own destiny”.
He said this is “vital to us in the Caribbean with our fractured past of colonialism and slavery”.
In that context he described the resistance to full CCJ membership by a majority of CARICOM nations as “almost frightening” because “this situation occurs even after CARICOM states, over 15 years ago, established their own court precisely to serve that purpose, and since US$100 million to guarantee that court’s sustainability”.
The trust fund, pooled by all CARICOM states, has been placed with investors and the returns ensure that CCJ is financially self-sufficient and thereby free from political influence.
Four years ago, then CCJ President, Sir Denis Byron, revealed that some 11 years after the court’s creation, the CCJ was satisfactorily maintained on the interest accrued from the investment and there was no need then to touch the principal.
Justice Saunders, who assumed the CCJ’s top post in July, said “I often meet colleagues, judges and other persons in the justice sector coming from countries from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and when I try to explain this phenomenon to them, it is no longer an anomaly because in the face of the incredulity on their faces, it becomes a painful embarrassment”.
He said that embarrassment “is linked to our perception of ourselves and the level of confidence we have in our capacity to take full responsibility for our own governance”.
But the chief justice of the CARICOM court also cited regional integration bodies such as UWI, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Caribbean Examinations Council that have become authorities and part of regional existence, expressing confidence that CCJ will one day be so regarded.
He also expressed confidence in the graduating class, those who went before, and the ones to come.
“I know that we can produce, that we have produced, and that in all of you assembled here we are producing worthy human beings who can effectively manage institutions of that nature”.