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Let CCJ have the final word

Published: 
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Saturday, the Caribbean Court of Justice registered another milestone in its development as President Designate of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron was introduced to the media community of the Caribbean. In a significant nod to the Caribbean countries which are signatories to the concept of the CCJ, the event was simulcast via video conferencing technology to the islands of the signatories. It was a key point of the event. Although 12 nations of the Caribbean have signed the agreement that establishes the Caribbean Court of Justice, only three, Belize, Barbados and Guyana, have made the necessary adjustments to their legislation to recognise the court as their final court of appeal.

The admirably open and technologically transparent records of the CCJ’s existence to date, with both PDFs of judgements and audio files of proceedings available online on its website, list the considerable use that both Barbados and Guyana in particular have made of the court as a resource. It is one of the great embarrassments of T&T’s legal and judicial fraternity that despite housing, contributing significantly to the funding of and providing the esteemed first President of the CCJ, Michael de la Bastide, this country still looks to the Privy Council as a court of final judicial resort.

This is particularly surprising since replacing the Privy Council is only part of the mission of the CCJ and its mandate as an international tribunal, a peer of equivalent institutions like the European and Andean Courts of Justice, empowers it with a key responsibility and jurisdiction over the interpretation and legal administration of the treaty that empowers the Caribbean community. The focus, then, has been on the CCJ as a legal entity, but it also has a key role in providing the legal underpinnings, counsel and judgements that will lead to the regional archipelago becoming a more unified and capable Caribbean.

The CCJ, then, as underutilised as it has been, is a critical component of any plans that Caricom may harbour and the challenge facing the new President Designate is in articulating the possibilities of that aspect of the court’s role and engaging the non-signatories in formally acknowledging the CCJ in both aspects of its mission and practice—in its original jurisdiction and as a final court of appeal. The irritation of the court’s first President was evident when he said: “If you have a good thing available for which you have paid, why in heaven’s name don’t you use it?”

“We have been beholden to a foreign government to provide us with a service which we ought to be providing for ourselves,” de la Bastide said, “This should be a matter of pride. We should assume full responsibility for our legal process and the most important rung in that legal process is the final one.” President Designate Sir Charles signalled his intention to follow on with the work of the sitting President when he takes office in August, noting that “it seems to be that as time goes on, the member states are getting closer to doing what is necessary to accede to the Court. 

So I would only hope that as I take office I would witness this development which would allow the Court to discharge its functions to benefit as wide a segment of our community as possible.” The incoming CCJ president, born in St Kitts and Nevis, represents a sound and admirable selection by the Regional and Judicial Legal Services Commission to succeed Michael de La Bastide. Currently serving as President of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he was knighted by the Queen in 2000 and appointed to Her Majesty’s Privy Council in 2004.On August 17, he will formally take office and it’s clear that while the challenges he faces are robust, he will also benefit from the solid groundwork that his predecessor laid down for him in the first years of the Caribbean Court of Justice. Still, there remains more to be done in establishing in practice, as well as law, the CCJ as the regional legal authority it was envisioned to be.

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