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THE CCJ STRUGGLE

Published: 
Sunday, April 30, 2017

Last week, President Anthony Carmona addressed UWI students at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados on the subject of the CCJ. He expressed his disappointment at the fact that only four countries out of the 12 independent countries in the region have signed on to the appellate jurisdiction of the court as opposed to the original jurisdiction of the court to which all CARICOM countries belong.

In his address, President Carmona raised the issue of acceptance of the CCJ as another step towards strengthening “Caribbean identity”. In going down this particular pathway, the President may, in fact, be addressing the very reason why the CCJ has not caught the attention of the Caribbean public with the arguments about “Caribbean identity” and “completing the cycle of independence”.

The latter was the primary argument that had been made by some judges on the CCJ as the reason for adopting the court as an automatic replacement for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines in the November 2009 referendum on the omnibus Constitution Bill (of which the CCJ was a part), the bill was defeated by a margin of 22,493 to 29,019.

In Grenada in November 2016, the reform issues were separated and each one was voted on separately in the referendum that was held on the amendments to the Constitution. On the specific issue of the CCJ replacing the Privy Council, the actual vote rejecting this was 9,637 to 12,611.

The issue of Caribbean identity raised by President Carmona must be debated. Some countries in the region, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Lucia and others have adopted the knighthood as part of their national awards. Other countries in the region that are still monarchies and have Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State also make use of some aspects of the British honours system for national awards.

The knighthood is the gold standard of Caribbean accomplishment in public affairs, while membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council that carries with it the title of “The Right Honourable” is another title deeply cherished by political and judicial elites in our region.

Our regional history is replete with public expressions of loyalty to the British Crown, the use of British honours and reverence for our British heritage. Yet, it is surprising that so many who advocate for the switch from the Privy Council to the CCJ do not understand the deep-seated cultural and identity factors that bind our elites to those processes which is a confirmation of the connection.

The knighthood is not going anywhere anytime soon across the region for those countries that still use it. The membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council is part of a convention established for the first two Chief Justices of the CCJ.

The Caribbean integration movement was founded in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in September 1947 when the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Arthur Creech-Jones, convened the Conference On The Closer Association of the British West Indian Colonies. The concluding resolution of that conference humbly affirmed “its loyalty and allegiance to the Person and Throne of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Sixth” with “members of the Conference rising to their feet while recording their unanimous agreement”.

In 1955, Eric Williams told us that the British Constitution suitably modified was good enough for us because it was good enough for Great Britain. In 1962, Norman Manley argued in Jamaica that our system of government had evolved as part of our heritage of which “we should not be ashamed”. In 1976, the Williams government decided not to abolish the Privy Council as the final court of appeal for this country when the constitution was changed.

There are some who have argued that it is a matter of self-confidence that the CCJ has not replaced the Privy Council. On the contrary, it is a matter of identity that goes to the heart of why knighthoods and membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council are so deeply desired by so many Caribbean political, public service and judicial elites.

President Carmona’s arguments are more an expression of his frustration at the lack of change than anything else. However, he must understand the nature of the Caribbean psyche that yearns for the symbols of the British honours system as a means of earning global identity and recognition.

During the period of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) in Grenada between 1979 and 1983, People’s Law No 84 abolished appeals to the Privy Council. After the collapse of the PRG, the Government of Grenada re-instated appeals to the Privy Council in 1991 without objection by virtue of the Constitutional Judicature (Restoration) Act of 1991. Why?

When the referendum was held in Grenada last November, those youths of the early 1980s whose consciousness would have been raised by these reforms did not support the amendment. The revolutionary spirit is gone.

Awarding knighthoods and membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council with such pride and veneration undermines the argument for replacement of the Privy Council with the CCJ and perhaps explains the slow pace of change.

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