Jamaica’s brand-new government says it wants the idyllic Caribbean island to truly assert and enjoy its independence, and so it is moving to abolish the British Privy Council as the country’s longstanding final court of appeal.
In doing so, it will join sister Caribbean states Guyana, Belize and Barbados in telling the British law lords that Caribbean attorneys are just as brilliant as they are and can examine cases with similar levels of impartiality.
The new People’s National Party (PNP) administration says it also wants to ditch Queen Elizabeth as the island’s head of state, replacing the local governor general who represents the queen with a ceremonial president. The island would then become a republic, like Guyana and Trinidad, which have their own presidents as heads of state rather than a foreigner far removed in Europe.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, 66, had just barely taken the oath of office after convincingly winning general elections late last month when she declared the island’s intention to replace the British appeals court with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The CCJ has been in operation for nearly seven years, albeit with little to do because only three of the 15 trade bloc member states have subscribed to the court’s appellate section.
Jamaica is one of the many Caribbean states that have made much of their opposition to abolishing the Privy Council. The country’s bar association and the previous Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) administration had steadfastly set its face against the CCJ, contending that the judges are too close to Caribbean society and as such would be too near to politicians and prone to political interference.
But the JLP has done an about-face and now says the time has come to support both the CCJ and abolishing the British monarchical system.
“I love the queen; she is a beautiful lady…But I think time come,” Miller said of the British monarch. On the court, she said the time had been reached to “end judicial surveillance from London.”
Getting the region’s countries to leave the British hasn’t been exactly easy for Caricom, the regional trade bloc. Only Guyana, Belize and Barbados have signed on to its appellate jurisdiction, leaving the highly paid judges with little to do. Other countries have cited excuses such as difficulties winning a two-thirds vote in parliament and organizing referendums to change their entrenched constitutional clauses.
The PNP won 42 of 63 seats in Jamaica’s recent general elections and says it is ready for radical change. Ironically, Trinidad, the court’s home base, has also persistently refused to sign off on the change, citing the same general political interference.