The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will impose on local judicial systems a greater obligation to ensure that judgements can bear the scrutiny of those who sit in the final court, Chancellor of the Judiciary Desiree Bernard has said.
In brief remarks at the opening of the two-day Conference of Chief Magistrates of CARICOM member states at the Hotel Tower yesterday, Bernard said that members of the Guyana Court of Appeal were not afraid to be marked by the CCJ when it came into being. But Bernard cautioned it did not necessarily mean that what the CCJ said would be true “or what is right.”
She said it was high time that Caribbean countries felt complete in their independence, and that while “we claim to be independent but yet we have our final court the [Privy Council]... thousands of miles away totally removed from the mores and customs of our people.”
She said Guyana had had the wisdom to create its own court 30 years ago. At the time, she said, people must have thought that sacrilegious, but Guyana had continued in the high traditions of the profession and the law, and the courts had been and would continue to be a success.
In fact, with regard to Guyana and the establishment of the CCJ, Guyana would be surrendering its independence by agreeing to have the CCJ as its final court, but Bernard added that this was necessary for Caribbean integration.
CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington said with the CCJ now legally in existence since the instruments of ratification had been deposited by St Lucia, Barbados and Guyana to be followed subsequently by Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, CARICOM was now looking forward to the inauguration later this year. Other ratifying states, he said, would need time to prepare, table and enact legislation to give domestic legal effect to the court’s jurisdiction.
Noting the necessity and timeliness of the CCJ, Carrington said
there had been some fears that the quality of the judges who would preside in this court might be suspect. Finding such assertions to be offensive, Carrington said the region had produced judges who had presided with distinction in courts at the highest level all over the world and would continue to do so. The choice of judges would not be limited to the Caribbean but could come from any territory in the Commonwealth.
This statement was endorsed by the main speaker, Chief Justice of Belize, Dr Abdulai Conteh, who referred to eminent jurists such as Guyanese Mohamed Shahabuddeen who served on the International Court of Justice at the Hague; Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada, Julius Isaac of Grenada; Patrick Robinson of Jamaica who also served with Shahabuddeen on the International Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia.
The judges for the court will be appointed by a Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission, the selection of which is said to be outside the political domain. In that regard, Carrington said that the CCJ would be the only international tribunal whose judges would not be directly appointed by political representatives.
In his address Conteh said financing the court at an appropriate level to ensure that it functioned with efficiency, dispatch and the necessary judicial independence and integrity would be a challenge. He said too that often in the administration of justice, ensuring adequate financial provisions for the judiciary did not rate very high in the calculations of national treasuries.
“It cannot be denied that in the round, the proper administration of justice is, in a material sense, part of the national security operations of the state. For when the courts become dysfunctional through lack of resources, the tendency is for people to have recourse to more destabilising methods of settling disputes, which before too long, may impact on the social, economic and political welfare of the state.” He added that the blight on judicial systems caused by rich and over-powerful drug barons in some countries was a sober reminder in this respect.
He said in the case of the CCJ, the prospect of under-funding or lack of adequate financial and other resources, would deal a body blow to regional co-operation and integration almost to the point of unravelling the whole process.
Conteh noted that the assessed contributions to be paid by member states toward the cost of the court should be charged by law on the Consolidated Fund or public revenues of member states.
Among those represented at the conference are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
Among the subjects to be discussed are the structure and function of the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction; the law in regional economic development and the original jurisdiction of the CCJ; the referral procedure in the agreement establishing the CCJ; regionalisation of the judiciary - potential impact of the CCJ; the magistracy in a civil law jurisdiction; the possibilities for harmonisation of the procedures of the magistracy in the community; and legal education, the magistracy and the CCJ.