New president, old issues for the CCJ

Thursday, July 05, 2018

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The installation of the new Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) president coincided yesterday with the start of the 39th summit of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of Government at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James.

Justice Adrian Saunders takes over as the third president of the CCJ from Sir Dennis Byron, after what was said to be an exhaustive international search. Without question, Justice Saunders' résumé is impressive.

For sure, we have no doubt about his legal qualification for the job, particularly where it concerns the original jurisdiction of the CCJ — which functions as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional bloc.

Indeed, he has been a judge at the CCJ since 2005 and chairman of the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers and the course director of the Halifax-based Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute's Intensive Study Programme.

He has co-authored the book Fundamentals of Caribbean Constitutional Law and is a contributing editor to the Caribbean Civil Court Practice. Just this year he was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Global Judicial Integrity Network by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Additionally, Justice Saunders holds a Bachelor of Laws from The University of the West Indies. He was called to the Bar of St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1975, going on to work with Sir Dennis at the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and later the CCJ.

His experience and academic qualifications will set him in good stead for overseeing the CCJ in its original jurisdiction. What is not as clear is how qualified he is when it comes to the appellate jurisdiction, through which certain Caribbean politicians want to replace the United Kingdom Privy Council as the region's final court of appeal.

The Caribbean people, as evidenced by the fact that only four territories have subscribed to the appellate jurisdiction, are not convinced that it is time to abolish the UK Privy Council. Grenada voted an overwhelming no — the latest to do so.

As we are never tired of saying here, certain politicians “propose to replace it with an unproven institution — the CCJ — which will exist for the foreseeable future under the shadow of Jamaican and regional politicians who are irrevocably in love with their own sense of power to intervene, adversely, we might add, in the running of local and regional institutions.

“And they are moving to do this under no form of duress, except for a bunch of platitudes and their self-imposed burden to get rid of what are really intangible notions such as 'relics of colonialism'.”

How seized is Justice Saunders with the fact that corruption is rampant in the corridors of law in some islands, including Jamaica? Or the fact that in our abysmally small geographical space, the overriding need for arms-length transactions and transparency in the justice system is too frequently frustrated by cronyism, school ties, as well as business and familial bonds?

He has been given the opportunity. We hope he has it in him to calm these fears among Caribbean people that will not go away in a hurry.

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