A Trinidad-based Caribbean appeals court has been in operation for nearly 12 years, but fewer than half of the countries of the 15-nation Caribbean Community bloc of nations have signed on as members.
Instead, some still cling to the British Privy Council as their nation’s final court of appeal, even though the law lords in London have persistently and embarrassingly urged them to support their own and stop burdening the Privy Council with cases from the region.
Since its inauguration in early 2005, only Guyana, Barbados, Belize and Dominica have signed on to the appellate division of the two-tier court. The other section deals specifically with trade matters in the single trading bloc. Membership there is mandatory but not for the appellate division.
In recent weeks, the governments of Antigua and Grenada have taken bold steps to end membership in the British court and join the Caribbean jurisdiction, but no one is certain what the outcome will be.
The first hint of major uncertainty emerged from St. John’s, the capital city of Antigua, in the past week.
Like Grenada and several other of the smaller Eastern Caribbean nations, any Antiguan government wishing to take the country away from the British must organize a national referendum with a two-thirds majority vote.
Taking his cue from a recent independent poll that was conducted by a respected Barbados pollster, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said that the early indications from the polls might result in a canceled effort to leave the Privy Council.
“We have always taken the position that we reserve the right to call off the referendum,” he said, hinting at trouble convincing locals. “So if per chance we do a poll later in the year and we are not up to the 67 percent, we may just decide to call it off. I am not saying any such decision has been taken. We poll the CCJ. We are in a majority position in terms of support, but unfortunately we are not at the 67 percent, which means we have a significant amount of work to do.”
The original Oct. 27 date has already been pushed back, and officials have given themselves until March next year to hold or cancel the referendum.
“The unfortunate thing about it is that people are voting along party lines and not based on the merit of completing this cycle of independence to have our own court,” Browne said.
Down south in Grenada, the administration of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has also pushed back his Oct. 27 date for a multi-issue referendum, citing the need for more public education time as well.
Officials there said locals weren’t paying enough attention to the issues on the ballots and had only now begun to demand answers from leaders and politicians. The result is a postponement by a month.
“The constitution reform advisory committee has listened also to all the contributions of the stakeholders in this matter, and against this joint background it has been decided it would better serve the public good if an extension of approximately one month be given for the education process to be completed,” said Attorney General Cajeton Hood as he announced the change of date. “While we appreciate that we cannot have an open-ended process, we understand the magnitude and historic significance of the bills being presented to Grenadians for their approval.”
Of the others not members as yet, St. Lucia has said it is eager to come on board, and, ironically, the one not even taking baby steps is Trinidad, where the court is based and founded.