David Comissiong

I suspect that the primary reason why the people of Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda voted on 6th November 2018 not to accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their highest national Court of Appeal is because – fundamentally – most of our people do not really know much about the Caribbean Court of Justice!

And the truth is that we Caribbean people do not really know very much about the CCJ simply because the institutions and officials that should have been consistently informing and educating us about the CCJ and our other significant regional institutions over the years have not done enough. 

It is important that we fully grasp the fact that the CCJ is our organization! The Caribbean Court of Justice was established by the fifteen member nations of our Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – inclusive of the said Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda – and is therefore an “institution” of CARICOM.

Indeed, the CCJ is one of the twenty odd institutions of CARICOM – a group of institutions that includes the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) among others.

Many of these CARICOM institutions are outstanding organizations, but if I was challenged to select THE very best and most excellent CARICOM institution of them all, I would have to go with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)!

And let me now list the many reasons why – in my opinion – the CCJ stands head and shoulders above not only every other CARICOM institution, but also way above the British Privy Council:-

 1)         First of all, the finances of the CCJ are as secure as the proverbial “Fort Knox”!  You see, the CCJ is financed out of the income generated by a permanent US$100 Million Trust Fund that is administered by a highly professional Board of Trustees drawn from or including the Heads of the Insurance Associations of the Caribbean, the Caribbean Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Association of Indigenous Banks of the Caribbean, the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations, the Caribbean Congress of Labour, the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, the University of the West Indies and the CARICOM Secretariat.  This excellent state of affairs is a tribute to the collective foresight of the CARICOM Secretariat, then Barbados Attorney-General, Mia Amor Mottley, and former St. Lucia Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, who undertook responsibility for setting up the Trust Fund at the time of the establishment of the CCJ. 

(2)         This fulsome and secure funding explains why the CCJ has been able to establish and maintain a first class, modern, state-of-the-art headquarters and Court in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago and – unlike the Privy Council – to also institute the modus operandi of an itinerant Court, travelling and taking its services to Caribbean citizens in Barbados, Jamaica, Belize, Guyana and other CARICOM nations. 

(3)         The CCJ also employs and maintains a panel of absolutely first class, experienced, and highly professional judges who – to date – have been drawn from the nations of Trinidad & Tobago, St. Kitts & Nevis, Jamaica, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the United Kingdom, Barbados, the Netherland Antilles, Guyana and Belize.  Indeed the Presidents of the Court have been such outstanding legal luminaries as Hon. Michael de la Bastide of Trinidad & Tobago, Sir Dennis Byron of St. Kitts & Nevis, and Hon. Adrian Saunders of St. Vincent & the Grenadines. 

(4)         The CCJ judges are all appointed by a broad-based non-political “Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission” (RJLSC), comprised of selectees or representatives of the Council of Legal Education, theUniversity of the West Indies and University of Guyana Law Faculties, the private sector Bar Associationsof the CARICOM nations, the OECS Bar Association,  the Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations, one CARICOM Public Service Commission and one Judicial Services Commission, and the Secretaries General of CARICOM and the OECS.  You really cannot get more broad-based and politically independent that this! 

(5)         The CCJ – unlike the Privy Council – is a final Court of Appeal for all types of civil and criminal cases – from the smallest civil claim of the average working-class Caribbean citizen to the high finance cases of the corporate elite.  The British Privy Council, on the other hand, basically functions as an Appeal Court either for the murder appeals of persons on death row or for big civil cases.  The Privy Council is not – in effect – a court that deals with the typical legal matters of ordinary Caribbean citizens! 

(6)         And one of the reasons why the British Privy Council – unlike the CCJ – is not really a Court for the masses of Caribbean people, has to do with costs.  In order for a Caribbean citizen to take a case before the Privy Council in London, England, he or she not only has to get permission to do so, but he/she also has to pay expensive filing costs; retain expensive UK based lawyers; and undertake the expensive venture of travelling to the United Kingdom.  Indeed, legal experts estimate that a Caribbean citizen has to look for somewhere between US$57,000 and US$87,000 in order to pay for a civil appeal before the Privy Council!  With the CCJ there is no such prohibitive cost.  Furthermore, rather than the Caribbean citizen having to travel to the CCJ in Trinidad, the CCJ will often come to the citizen in his or her home territory, or permit the appeal to be heard via video conferencing! 

(7)         Finally, unlike the Privy Council, the CCJ makes it a point of duty to “get on the case” of inefficient or dysfunctional national Courts of Law in our individual CARICOM member states – constantly subjecting them to constructive criticism, advice, and even training, in order to get them to improve their standards. 

Clearly, the CCJ is one of the greatest accomplishments of our regional integration Movement!  Moreover, it is an achievement that we collectively accomplished through the application of our own initiative and native intellect, and that our citizens and taxpayers have independently underwritten and financially supported.  It therefore goes without saying that we should all feel very proud about this outstanding Caribbean success story. 

At present, the CCJ serves 14 CARICOM member states as a Court of original jurisdiction with responsibility for interpreting and applying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, but it only serves four (4) CARICOM states as a final national Court of Appeal – Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica. 

Surely it is time for all of us in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to make full use of this first class Caribbean institution!