COMMENTARY: The Caribbean Court of Justice revisited

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! 

Disclaimer: The comments on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of Inc. All comments are approved by before they are posted. We never censor based on political or ideological points of view, but we do try to maintain a sensible balance between free speech and responsible moderating.

We will delete comments that:

  • violate or infringe the rights of any person, are defamatory or harassing or include personal attacks
  • are abusive, profane or offensive
  • contain material which violates or encourages others to violate any applicable law
  • promote hatred of any kind
  • refer to people arrested or charged with a crime as though they had been found guilty
  • contain links to "chain letters", pornographic or obscene movies or graphic images
  • are excessively long and off-message

See our full comment/user policy/agreement.


  1. Mango dou
    January 2, 2019

    I got better understanding then before, when the government forced the CCJ on the people without a referendum, unlike Antigua and Grenada. If we are to believe the reasoning of the organisation that the Privy Council is too costly for the ordinary Caribbean person, why not instead create a legal aid fund to aid these people, hence avoiding these uncertainties among the members. So far only only four Caricom members from fourteen are committed. Why is that?

  2. LawieBawie
    January 2, 2019

    The CCJ has recently proven to be a biased and untrustworthy institution. Not that I ever had a great deal of faith in them in the first place. However, the Government of Anguilla recently lost a case at the CCJ with regards to land around the airport which is the clearest and most blatant incident of deceit that I have seen in a long time. This case was against a group of lawyers who themselves are bosom buddies with the panel of judges of the CCJ. Most of the lawyers and other legal practitioners in this region are close friends with the judges of the CCJ. Most of them actually come from the same universities and develop friendships during their school years. Sadly, these friendships go a long way in influencing decisions made in these courts. Needless to say, the Government of Anguilla lost their case despite expert advice from technocrats showing the true value of this land.

  3. Markie
    January 1, 2019

    Caricom was on a promotion drive to educate citizens on the functions of the CCJ by printing thousands of booklets, while clearing a few persons items from the customs in a particular country, there several boxes with booklets on the subject, when I asked the custom officer why these boxes are still there, he informed that the customs have informed the ministry of legal affairs of the boxes and no action was taken to the booklets to the public. I returned to the custom a few days later and the boxes were gone. when I asked the custom who took the boxes, I was informed boxes were there for an over extended period and based on regulations, the boxes were dumped. we do not take responsibility for our actions, citizen elect government, but we fail to act and or show our displeasure when they act against our wishes. Also we don’t our expressed our concerned against a select self interest close to the powers to be.

  4. Markie
    January 1, 2019

    I have read the many comments but we are missing the central point. We Caribbean people don’t take responsible for our actions. Its all of us in our respective countries who have elected our governments, if we feel that they are acting and or governing the country in the best interest of the majority, then we remove them. As part of our education system, do teach civic at schools, informing us of our civic rights, understanding of the functions of, our legislature, executive, judiciary, the president, the prime ministers, and our own role as citizens. If you were to take a survey in any of Caricom member states, I would say less than 10% known the function and role of Caricom. The sad situation, the respective governments keeps us in the situations and we don’t have a active press and or concerned citizen groups to educate us, iis possible the press may be in bed with the government.

  5. January 1, 2019

    M. Commissiong,

    Very well presented and researched article! From my observations, I have concluded that the CCJ has broad private sector support but seriously lacks political goodwill and support for it to function as the final NATIONAL court of the various INDEPENDENT STATES of CARICOM.

  6. Anon
    December 31, 2018

    He’s a blight Barbados paid a high price for his BS . Dom can hve him. Bajans will keep Ross.

  7. Zandoli
    December 31, 2018

    As many have already alluded to, it is not that people may not perceive the benefits of of the CCJ, but our leaders are so corrupt that people do not trust them or the regional institutions.

    Just recently in Trinidad, evidence mysteriously disappeared from police custody in a case regarding fraud. How can the people of Trinidad trust law enforcement personnel when they know full well that was an inside job? And then you are asking them to put their faith in the CCJ when we can’t even get the simplest of things right? Do you think it is merely accidental that the CCJ is based in Trinidad yet, they have not signed on to it?

  8. Your auntie brother
    December 30, 2018

    Mr. Commissionair dont think I trust the CCJ because I do not. As a Dominican I see that as a thing constructed by our givernments and I dont trust them either because it must be for their benefit to do that, not mine. You are right our people are not educated enough about it. You know in Dominica we know more about the bible than our own constitution and that is so those in authority can control us better with the fear of God on whose behalf they rule, at least that is the message we get from our leadership here in Dominica, the same one that take us in the CCJ without asking us. Now I hope you understand Why our people are so weary. Happy new year to you Sir.

  9. %
    December 30, 2018

    Good job at convincing me that the CCJ is a CARICOM institution to be proud of! The problem is,however, the trust factor.In Dominica for example many people think that the justice system is highly in favour of who you know,and therefore many people don’t think that on island ‘justice is blind’,rather it appears to be ‘blind folded’. Is this the sentiment pervading the Caribbean? This could be the contributing factor for Antigua and Grenada rejecting the CCJ.
    Trust in the CCJ will abound,only when our local courts serve the people, irrespective of position,stature,race,colour, creed, political leanings,the size of your bank account, you academic achievement, your profession,etc,etc..

  10. Ibo France
    December 30, 2018

    Well researched, well written and well convincing! Our people of the Caribbean have this erroneous notion that foreign is always better. We need to disabuse ourselves of this fallacy. There are some who believe that politics, favoring the governments of the region, will interfere with the judgments given. The author has put this to rest. The more educated we become about the CCJ, the less the misgivings and the more confidence we will have in this most important home baked institution.
    Continue to educate us about the formation, work and decisions of the CCJ, Mr. Comissiong.

    • Anonymous
      January 1, 2019

      Ibo, we should not insist that if something is not of our own making it can not be suitable or good for us. If we want equality the law should be the same for all of us and that should be the best legal system available. I do not hold that black people should have their own separate system tailored for them because if you do, you are saying that we are different. The ten commandments apply to all humans. We should always strive for the best. If you are an American you do not insist to drive an American car purely on principle. You go for the best,and more often than not it is European.

  11. Badbaje
    December 30, 2018

    God morning and well wishes to you Mr. Comissiong.
    The problem many people like myself have with the CCJ can be found in your very first reason given to for the CCJ to be trusted.
    I read the first reason you gave, reason #1, and therein found something that has eluded me all this time, the first and foremost reason I do not like nor turst the CCJ. It is supportted by all those others named and listed organizations in your #1 reaso. , All, each and every last one of them, are not trustworthy.
    The regular person in the street cannot trust such entities, when they were established to control him in the first place. Despite the false coverings they can all be seen as being under the control of and being used by those in power.

  12. Lady Valley
    December 30, 2018

    There are several more reasons than those cited by the author why Caribbean people are not yet convinced about the theoretical benefits of the CCJ. It may be too simplistic to conclude that people are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the court.

    People do not trust our indegenious judicial system like the OECS supreme court system and by extension they fear the outcome of the CCJ. Nevertheless, one is inclined to give support to a efficiently functioning CCJ as a premiere Caribbean judicial institution giving meaning to fully independent people.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

:) :-D :wink: :( 8-O :lol: :-| :cry: 8) :-? :-P :-x :?: :oops: :twisted: :mrgreen: more »

 characters available