'Great day for CARICOM' - Anthony
US$100M fund for Caribbean Court of Justice
Stabroek News
July 6, 2002

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CARICOM Heads yesterday reached agreement on a funding mechanism for the landmark Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) at their 23rd Summit in Georgetown.

With this critical hurdle crossed, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) seems less of a pipedream, since the CCJ will now be in place to deal with any disputes that arise in its operation. The CCJ is expected to become operational some time during the third quarter of next year.

Summing up decisions taken and issues discussed at the summit at a press conference last night following the final plenary session at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel, newly-installed CARICOM Chairman, President Bharrat Jagdeo said that the decision was necessary to complete the process of political independence in the region.

The media had been invited to a press conference initially at 6:30 pm but it eventually got underway at 10:30 pm. The communique which was promised at the end of the three-day summit had not been issued up to press time.

St Lucia was the first member state to ratify the agreement but needs to enact legislation to effect the change from the UK Privy Council, the final court it shares with the other Eastern Caribbean states. Barbados' Attorney General, Mia Mottley, has indicated that she would recommended to her Cabinet that the government should also ratify the agreement. Three countries need to ratify the agreement to bring the CCJ into operation.

Making the announcement at an earlier press conference at Le Meridien where the CARICOM summit was held. St Lucia's Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, described the occasion as an historic one. Dr Anthony has responsibility for governance and justice in the community. He told reporters, "...after several years of painstaking hard work and sometimes very, very frustrating... we are on the threshold of the establishment of the court.

"We cleared the last hurdle this morning and the conference has agreed to establish a trust fund to administer the court on a sustainable basis over time.

The decision, he said, would ensure that all institutions held at independence were fully repatriated and fully located within the region.

The proposal for a regional appellate court was first made in 1970 at the Sixth Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in Kingston, Jamaica. The then Jamaican government proposed the establishment of a final court in the region to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, so as to give true meaning to the independent status of the member states of the Caribbean. The income generated by the US$100 million trust fund, will be used to cover the current and other expenses of the CCJ. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) will raise the US$100 million on the capital market and on-lend it to the member states for immediate investment in the trust fund. An appropriate company identified by the bank will manage the fund on behalf of the governments of the region. CDB President Compton Bourne had been in Guyana for the summit to continue talks on the trust fund proposal. The CDB President is expected to report back to the Heads at their Inter-Sessional Meeting due to be held in St Lucia on the 16th and 17th of August on progress in raise the resources. All the heads, President Jagdeo said, expressed strong and unwavering support for the CCJ.

Anthony declared that this decision will give the Caribbean public, members of the legal fraternity and the judiciary the comfort and confidence of knowing that funds have been identified to service the court over time, ensuring that it did not become a victim of monthly or quarterly subventions by governments.

Anthony said he was particularly pleased with the work of both Mottley and the Guyanese-born Bourne, whose contribution has resulted in what he called a great day for the region and a resounding affirmation of its independence.

Answering questions from reporters about the repayment of the US$100 million, Bourne said he foresaw no problem with the governments being able to service the debt, as over the last 30 years of the bank's existence it has had good relations with them in this area.

Mottley said the court would have a panel of nine judges although she anticipated that this might not be a reality from the outset. However, she noted that while funding was being sourced there was a lot of administrative work to be done including the establishment of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission which will have responsibility for recruiting and appointing the judges. Anthony said that Mottley would be in charge of getting the commission up and running and expects that it would be in place by year-end.

CCJ judges will be drawn from the Caribbean and Commonwealth. Only the commission can dismiss them, acting on the advice of a tribunal established for the purpose. The Conference of CARICOM Heads will appoint the President of the Court.

The arrangement for selecting and removing the judges is to insulate them from possible political manipulation. CARICOM is the only integration movement where the political directorate would not appoint the judges who will interpret and apply the instrument establishing it.

Mottley said that a number of the member states would have to enact legislation - Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia among them - or hold referenda as required by their constitutions to substitute the CCJ for the Privy Council.

Guyana's constitution provides for the CCJ to be its final court once the CCJ comes into existence. Trinidad's Prime Minister, Patrick Manning said that his government would enact the necessary legislation at the first opportunity. Manning is unable to enact the legislation at present because the parliament is unable to elect a Speaker. Trinidad is the seat of the Court and the building to house it has been already identified.

Haiti and Suriname, because of their civil-law tradition could only commit to the court's original jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the treaty establishing the Caribbean Community. The appellate jurisdiction is a matter of concern for some sections of the community, leading Anthony to comment at the summit's opening session that the desire to have the British taxpayer foot the bill for its court system was the psychological irony of Caribbean independence.

Mottley, too, dismissed concerns in some quarters about the motivation for establishing the court, pointing out that the 1989 decision was taken before the governments raised anxieties about the Privy Council's approach to the death penalty. Regional countries have expressed unease over recent Privy Council rulings which have blocked executions from taking place.