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Changing the guard at the CCJ

Published: 
Sunday, May 20, 2018

The CCJ changed its guard at the farewell session of the court in Antigua last week for Sir Dennis Byron who ended his judicial career and handed the reins over to Mr Justice Adrian Saunders.

This will usher in a new era for the CCJ and there are ongoing matters of status and titles that will pass on to Justice Saunders that were hallmarks of the tenure of both Michael de la Bastide and Sir Dennis. One of these major issues is whether or not the convention of having the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice sworn in as a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, as was done in the cases of Michael de la Bastide and Sir Dennis.

It is extremely awkward to talk about moving from the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council and embracing the CCJ as the final court of appeal if this is going to be the example shown at the top. The other issue of concern is the matter of the President of the CCJ being knighted if that person comes from a Caricom country that still uses the British honours system as part of its national awards. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and St Lucia have all instituted a system of absorbing the knighthood into their national honours. This means that the title has been assimilated into the Caribbean psyche in some countries so that the highest awards can still be “Sir” and “Dame,” but just not awarded at an investiture held by Queen Elizabeth II.

The deeper issue being analysed here is the intertwining of the CCJ with the British honours system or its regional reproductions and the extent to which the knighthood is regarded as the gold standard of public affairs accomplishment in our region.

There are still countries besides Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Guyana that have not yet acceded to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ, while all countries of Caricom belong to its original jurisdiction. This issue of knighthoods and membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council cannot be treated lightly as it goes to the core of the identity of the court.

There is another matter that was reported to the police in T&T in a criminal complaint last October regarding membership of the Regional Judicial and Legal Service Commission which has not been reported in the local press. This is a very serious matter as the complaint was made and threats of a libel action have made in retaliation to the person who made the complaint. Justice Saunders may have to keep a wary eye on this as he assumes office as President of the CCJ and the local police need to do their work expeditiously to make a determination in this matter soon.

The CCJ debate is going to continue as there have been statements out of Grenada that suggest that the Government will make another attempt to reform the constitution to abolish the Privy Council and replace it with the CCJ after it was rejected in a referendum in November 2016.

The reality is that Grenada is an interesting test case for the abolition of the Privy Council as it had been removed during the tenure of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) by People’s Law No 84 in 1979. After the collapse of the PRG and the holding of a general election in December 1984, the new Government validated the abolition of the Privy Council in 1985. However, once the murder trials involving some of the former revolutionaries had been completed, the then government of Grenada re-joined the Privy Council in 1991.

What will happen this time around will be interesting to observe as there was only a 32 per cent turnout in the last referendum and a majority voted against having the CCJ as the final court of appeal.

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