President Nicholas Liverpool on Tuesday made an impassioned plea for the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to join the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final court of appeal.
Delivering the traditional Throne Speech at the start of Dominica’s new parliamentary term, Liverpool outlined the various stages of development of the CCJ, which was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council, and which also serves as an international Tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.
While most of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have joined the CCJ in its original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana and Belize are signatories to the appellate jurisdiction.
“It is my hope that this Honourable House will see its way clearly to complete the legislative work required and take the proper steps to ensure that the court functions…with respect to matters from Dominica,” Head of State Liverpool told Parliament.
He said that the sub-region would be presented with a “very untimely state of affairs if all the independent countries of the OECS do not accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the court as a group”.
“We may hardly remind ourselves that this country is a part of one court system, a Supreme Court consisting of a Court of Appeal headquartered in St. Lucia, and High Court situated in all of the territories.
“It would be most undesirable therefore to have some states in this unified court system taking their appeals to the Privy Council while others accede to the jurisdiction of the CCJ.”
President Liverpool, a prominent Caribbean jurist, said that every attempt should be made to “entrench the position of the court in our constitutions at the same level that our current Supreme Court system is entrenched”.
“It is suggested that…legislative steps be taken to substitute the CCJ for the Privy Council, the Constitution of Dominica should be amended and the following procedure which is mandated by the Constitution be meticulously followed.”
He said there must be an interval of not less than 90 days between the introduction of the bill and the beginning of the proceedings in Parliament on the second reading.
“The bill therefore should not be introduced and passed at the same sitting,” he said, adding that the legislation would only be regarded as being passed “if on its final reading in the House it is supported by the votes of not less than three-quarters of all the elected members of the House.’
“Two points need to be noted here. The first is that the votes of Senators do not count and the second is when the count is taken, the figure of three quarters pertains to all elected members and not only those who were present when the vote was being taken,” he explained.
“Further, after the bill has been passed it must be approved by a simple majority of the votes cast at a referendum to be conducted by the Electoral Commission”.
But Liverpool said that the Constitution provides “however that a referendum may not be held if there is an agreement between Dominica and the United Kingdom concerning appeals from any court having jurisdiction in Dominica to the Privy Council”.
He said the bill would also have to be submitted to the President for his assent only after the proper steps have been taken.
“In addition when the bill is submitted to the President for his assent it must be accompanied by a certificate under the hand of the Speaker indicating all the steps have been complied with”.
“The Speaker’s certificate is conclusive evidence that the provisions have been complied with and cannot be inquired into in any court of law,” he said.
Liverpool said he understood that a referendum could be a “costly affair in terms of efforts, expense and time” since there is no referendum law on the Statute books, it would need to be enacted by Parliament setting out the procedures to be followed.
“In particular one should note that the Constitution provides that every person at the time that the referendum is held would be entitled to vote for the purpose of electing representatives to the House of Assembly is entitled to vote when the referendum is held for the purpose of amending the Constitution and the vote must be given by ballot in such a manner as to not disclose how any particular person voted”.
Liverpool said that while every argument has two sides, “it must also be appreciated every argument invariably must come to an end”.
He quoted a prominent Caribbean jurist as saying there must be a time when Caribbean people must manage fully their own judicial system.
According to the Head of State, the CCJ has been functioning satisfactorily for the past seven years and all other stakeholders have been adhering to policies and measures enshrined to ensure an independent court.
He said that a new CCJ president had recently been appointed and there had been no objection to his appointment.
“The way now seems clear for the OECS countries to join the court and this they should preferably do as a group. Leadership in the OECS region should henceforth be about educating the public about why this important step is also part our development process instead of fighting against its implementation,” he added.
The OECS groups the islands of Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis.
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