Scales of Caribbean Justice

Image: Is the Saint Lucian justice system itself unjust by design?

2018 WILL be remembered for some major decisions taken by and affecting the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The regional court took a record number of decisions this year, including upholding the right of qualified foreign nationals to vote in this year’s historic Barbados general elections and ruling that a Guyana law outlawing cross-dressing is unlawful.

In one of its last decision, it also reversed the decisions of two Dominica courts regarding employers’ responsibility to pay employees for work done while in the employers’ employ.

This case involved a state entity withholding payment of a member of staff who’d worked beyond the expiry contract date on the basis of not being so advised by the highest ministerial official. The Dominica High Court and the OECS Appeals Court had both ruled in favour of the state-owned entity, but the appellant won before the CCJ.

The victorious litigant says this case reaffirms the independence of the CCJ and justifies its existence as a regional court that can be counted on to deliver justice where due. But not so the Dominic and OECS courts, which are bound by the CCJ’s ruling but would most likely insist theirs were justified in the first place.

Here again, as with the response of Barbados to the earlier CCJ ruling in the case of a Jamaican woman visitor who’d been seriously manhandled at the island’s airport, there are the natural claims that the CCJ is encroaching on local and sub-regional jurisdictions.

Of course, much of the anti-CCJ sentiment is being channeled and funneled through those regional jurists and other legal minds who continue to pledge blind faith and loyalty to the Privy Council.

The view that persons unknown can better deliver justice than persons known to and of the regional reality is seen by pro-CCJ advocates as not much unlike arguing that the blind can better lead those who know their way.

As the vote against the CCJ in the Antigua and Barbuda referendum earlier this year showed, CARICOM citizens haven’t yet had sufficient reason, in their hearts, to want to place full trust in the guardians and custodians of local (and regional) law, order and justice. But the Caribbean isn’t the only part of the world where decisions by top courts are sending shockwaves up the spins of many.

Just in the past fortnight, a top Appeals Court in Australia overturned the conviction of a senior Catholic cleric who’d been accused and found guilty of protecting men of cloth accused of sex crimes against children. In the USA, the US Gymnastics, the nation’s top related sporting entity that was at the centre of a sex scandal involving a top official violating countless women, has now filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And in Cambodia, surrogate motherhood has been illegalized.

In the Australian and US cases, the legal rulings and actions have put an automatic stay on delivery of legal compensatory packages, leaving victims in a tailspin as to if and when they will be compensated. And in Cambodia, the ruling has caught countless women pregnant with surrogate babies agreed to by contract before the widespread activity was illegalized.

None of the above is unlike in Saint Lucia, where the families of the victims of Operation Restore Confidence (ORC) continue to languish in limbo, wondering if Lady Justice will ever come their way. And where relatives of the victims of the ongoing criminal homicide onslaught keep praying to God for judgement – and vengeance.

Laws rule our lives and not every legal decision will be popular with both or all sides, which is why every court decision can be appealed. But the laws, in themselves, will only be words on paper that still rule our daily lives, unless we not get to know and respect how they affect us – and have confidence in those of us in whose hands our scales of justice have been deservingly placed.

Our confidence in the CCJ, for example, should not continue to hang in a balance!

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was carried in the December 15, 2018 issue of The VOICE. However, the last few words of the last sentence were inadvertently left out, for which we sincerely apologize and repeat the editorial in this issue, in its entirety.)

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