Trini opposition wants Caribbean court

Bert Wilkinson | 8/29/2013, 9:58 a.m. | Updated on 8/29/2013, 9:58 a.m.
Since its establishment of the regional appeals court back in 2005, the appellate body has struggled to attract members, with ...
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Since its establishment of the regional appeals court back in 2005, the appellate body has struggled to attract members, with some like Jamaica and host nation Trinidad preferring to still send civil and criminal appeals all the way to the British Privy Council in London for adjudication despite their being independent nations for more than 50 years. Currently, only Guyana, Barbados and Belize are members of the appellate branch of the two-tier court, which also has a component dealing specifically and finally with any trade dispute surfacing in the regional trade bloc.

While various Jamaican governments have dithered on whether to ditch the bewigged British judges as the island’s final arbiters, host nation Trinidad continues to embarrass itself by ironically laying out all the facilities for the court at a world-class building in the capital but doing everything possible not to become a member.

This week, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley upped the pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar by demanding the abolition of the British court and requesting that the country sign on to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) once and for all. Rowley is using the opportunity of inter-party talks with the government on a range of issues, including the island’s worrisome crime rate, as an opportunity to press for Trinidad to become a member of the court and avoid being the laughing stock of the region on this particular issue.

“We strongly recommend the acceptance of the CCJ as our final court of appeal. We stand very strongly in our position that the government should take steps to commit Trinidad and Tobago to adhering to the treaty that makes our final court of appeal not the Privy Council, but the CCJ,” Rowley told reporters this week.

The move comes as several of the smaller Eastern Caribbean states like Dominica and St. Vincent, which want to join the court, have received clearance from the subregion’s own appeal court system, which recently ruled that there is no need to hold referendums and secure a two-thirds parliamentary vote to join the CCJ as previously believed.

Judges working on the criminal and civil appeals section remain a bit underused, as work is only coming from Guyana, Barbados and Belize, even if some cases are as high-profile as the one involving allegations from a Jamaican women that she was strip-searched and sexually assaulted by a Barbadian airport officer who mistook her for a prostitute. The ruling is set for the fall.

But even as the opposition leader plans to continue linking his anti-crime talks to the island signing on to the CCJ, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan says he sees no nexus between the two issues.

“This joint anti-crime initiative was designed to deal with the specific problem of the criminal violence in society. I don’t see how the issue of the CCJ abolition can assist in

the process.”