CCJ President urges Caribbean countries to trust Regional Court

The President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders, said he “sincerely” believed that the decision by four Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to replace the London-based Privy Council in as the last and highest court “provides the best opportunities”. to advance both the jurisprudence of our region as a whole and that of each State”.

Justice Saunders, addressing the 60th anniversary of the Court of Appeal here, said the CCJ, which was established in February 2001, is working to vindicate the decision taken by Guyana’s governments and parliaments, to Barbados, Belize and Dominica and hopefully soon Saint Lucia. to “modify their Constitutions to send us their appeals.

“I sincerely believe that such a membership offers the best opportunities to advance both the jurisprudence of our region as a whole and that of each State. Membership also ensures that, yes, the children of the region will one day be able to aspire to the position of president of their own final court of appeal,” said the CCJ President, speaking on the theme “Jamaica: the role of the CCJ in Building Caribbean Jurisprudence”.

The CCJ, with both appellate and trial jurisdiction, also acts as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which governs the 15-member regional integration movement, CARICOM.

But while most countries in the region are signatories to the original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica have signed the appellate jurisdiction.

Mr Justice Saunders said birthdays provide an ideal opportunity for retrospection, introspection and contemplation of the future as well as a chance to reminisce about once cherished dreams and goals; the choices made in seeking to achieve them, and the results obtained.

“…let me assure you that whether Jamaica ultimately chooses to send its appeals to the CCJ or you take a different route, none of these steps will undermine the camaraderie, mutual learning and sharing that will always exist between the Jamaican judiciary and the CCJ.

“This country is an important member of the Caribbean Community and the JCC will continue to rely on the skills and expertise of the Jamaican people. This country will always be an important part of our nomination source pool whether as judges or staff of the CCJ or members of the RJLSC (Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission).

“The CCJ will continue the same outreach activities in Jamaica that we have done with all other CARICOM states,” he added.

The Saint Vincent and the Grenadines-born jurist said history records that it was the Gleaner newspaper in 1901 “that presciently set forth the need for a West Indian court of final appeal.

He said this idea crystallized in 2001 when the agreement establishing the CCJ was signed by 10 CARICOM member states, including Jamaica.

“Jamaica did not just execute the CCJ agreement. He pledged to repay to the Caribbean Development Bank and over a 10 year period he actually repaid approximately US$27 million to help capitalize the CCJ Trust Fund created in order to insulate the Court and its judges from any real risk or perceived political pressures that might exist.

“As individuals, Jamaican nationals have made enormous contributions to the operations and management of the Court. After the host country, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica has the largest CCJ membership,” he told the audience.

“Jamaica and its judicial officers have both benefited from and invested time and resources in furthering the objectives of the CCJ. But even so, and especially given the US$27 million invested in the trust fund by this country, the nagging questions that obviously arise are, has Jamaica achieved a full return on all that investment? What should such a return look like?

“What is the opportunity cost of not realizing this full return? Are there objective obstacles to such a realization? If that’s true, what are they? Ultimately, it is the government and the people of Jamaica who must answer these questions. People like me must respect and abide by these rulings,” Justice Saunders said, noting however that the CCJ president “I believe I am well placed to respectfully offer a view for what that view is worth.”

He said these issues have particular resonance with respect to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ and the role of a final appellate court.

Justice Saunders said that in his home jurisdiction a number of Jamaicans have accessed the Court both as lawyers and as litigants.

“We easily remember, for example, that it was a Jamaican national, Ms. Shanique Myrie, who had the courage to file a lawsuit seeking to hold Caribbean governments to account for the obligations they voluntarily assumed regarding the CARICOM single market and economy.

“Jamaica, however, is not sending its final appeals to the CCJ and I see that, rightly, there is a growing debate in the press about this.”

He said Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica were sending appeals to the CCJ and that “the first and most obvious point to make regarding the experience of these four countries is the massive increase in the number of cases of those States that are in the process of being resolved”. by a second degree court of appeal, i.e. by the CCJ.

“In each of these countries, compared to what happened before they joined, there has been a dramatic escalation in the volume of cases tried at a second level of appeal,” he said. stated, adding that for the 10 years before and after joining the CCJ, for Barbados and Belize, the increase was in the range of approximately 320 and 144%, respectively.

“Let’s briefly do a comparative survey for the period 2016 to 2021 (inclusive). Consider this too. Jamaica has a population that is approximately 10 times that of Barbados; seven times that of Belize and just under four times that of Guyana.

“During the period 2016 to 2021, only 20 second level appellate judgments have been rendered by Jamaica’s highest court. During the same period, the CCJ issued 43 Barbados judgments; 28 from Belize and 52 from Guyana. If we focus on Barbados, it is evident that a country with 10% of the population Jamaica has had more than double the number of cases heard and resolved at a second level of appeal. Compared to Jamaica, Guyana had more than two and a half times the number of cases heard and resolved at a second level of appeal.

Judge Saunders said the reality is that relatively few Jamaican cases are decided by the country’s court of last resort, adding that he recently read that Chief Justice Judge Bryan Sykes felt that the Court Jamaica’s appellate court would typically issue more than 250 appellate decisions each. year and that only three or four of these cases are appealed to the Privy Council.

“What is the reason for such a scarcity of cases going back to London? Surprisingly, some people still express the opinion that the Privy Council is “free” and that is a good reason why we should continue to use it. Such reasoning about freedom is simply absurd.

“The cost of filing with the London court, coupled with the large fees that must be paid to English solicitors, deters all but the well-off and legally aided from bringing a case to London. The basic reason why the few Jamaican cases arrive in London is linked to overwhelming expenses.

“No other Commonwealth country with a population or land area the size of Jamaica sends its last pleas to be heard in London. deciding its final appeals and having British judges ultimately interpret its Constitution and its laws is a fundamental constitutional choice for this state.

“But it’s a choice that has consequences. I have already alluded to such a choice. People of ordinary means are deprived of the possibility of availing themselves of a level of access to justice which they could and should enjoy.

There are other more systemic, subtle, less easily discernible consequences. These other consequences are shrouded in the role of a second level appellate court,” the CCJ President added.

Elna M. Lemons