Countries reluctant to sign on to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) should not be ridiculed for their apprehension. This is view of Justice Andrew Burgess, Barbados’ first judge appointed to the region’s highest appellate body.
Responding to questions from Barbados TODAY after taking the oath of office before Governor General Dame Sandra Mason at the Government House this morning, Burgess said that given the fact that the institution is still relatively new, he believes that some CARICOM territories want to wait until the court is properly tried and tested.
“You have to remember that for a lot of countries in the region they have to take the CCJ on faith because the CCJ only came into existence in 2005. So, the question is, do you believe that the CCJ delivers justice that is comparable with the Privy Council? Clearly, there were some countries that had judicial confidence in ourselves but one must not hold it against persons in the region who have decided that they would wait and see what the court can do,” Burgess said.
Last year Grenadians voted against joining the CCJ for the second time in as many years. In a national referendum in November, the preliminary figures released by the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) show that the “No” vote secured 12,133 as compared to 9,846 for those supporting the CCJ that was established in 2001.
In a Barbados TODAY interview hours after the historic vote, Attorney General Dale Marshall described it as “a sad day for the region”.
“ . . . I think it’s a sad day for the whole idea of CARICOM with organs that are designed by its people to service its people’s needs,” said Marshall, reacting to the decision of both countries to retain the London-based Privy Council over the regional CCJ as their highest court of appeal.
Marshall said the vote revealed how some Caribbean people still view themselves and their ability to operate independently. The frustrated attorney said he was “dismayed that at this point in our history, Caribbean people could have any doubt as to the ability of their own to make a well-reasoned and sensible decision on their affairs.
However, this morning the newest CCJ judge said that he is confident that as the court continues to build out its jurisprudence, more territories will see the light.
“It is not going to be long before the confidence in CCJ grows. It is only a matter of time before people see that our justices compare very favorably with those of the Privy Council,” he said.
His position was supported by the president of the CCJ Justice Adrian Saunders, who noted that the profile of the CCJ, as the ultimate judicial decision-making body, was growing quickly. He explained that Justice Burgess will now play a vital role in extending the court’s reputation for good judgments.
“At this point in time, I believe that the main goal of the court is to fashion a Caribbean jurisprudence that is reflective of our aspirations and our values. Those countries that send their appeals to us are reaping the benefits of having us as their final court. For those that currently do not, for a host of reasons that have very little to do with the quality of the court’s work and timeliness of decision making, I think it is just a matter of time,” he contended.
The CCJ is the final Court of Appeal on civil and criminal matters for four CARICOM Member States, namely Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana. Jamaica and other CARICOM countries are taking steps toward making the CCJ their final appellate court. In 2015, the House of Representatives voted for Jamaica to institute the CCJ as its final appellate court.