Saint Lucia’s Opposition United Workers Party (UWP), with two members in the 17-seat parliament, is calling its supporters to oppose the Philip J. Pierre administration and the ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party’s (SLP) promised plan to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) the island’s final Court of Appeal.
The UWP issued a statement last week claiming the government was “hastily” hurrying to parliament (yesterday) to make the ultimate CCJ move “without sufficient consultation with the general public or dissemination of information on the pros and cons of this move.”
The statement claimed a referendum would be appropriate as it “would ensure that the decision is made democratically and transparently”, that “the public is fully informed about the issue before making a decision” and “help to ensure that the decision is seen as legitimate and binding.”
It also said, “If the government were to make the decision without consulting the people, there would always be a question of whether the decision was truly representative of the will of the people.”
The UWP called on supporters to “Call or message your MP, tell them NO Referendum, NO CCJ.”
The statement quotes facts but bends the truth to fit its own interpretation: It points out that “only four” Caribbean nations have the CCJ as their ultimate appeals court (Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana) and that referenda were held in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda between 2009 and 2018, all of which the governments lost.
But there’s a lot more behind the Saint Lucia and other Caribbean Opposition parties tendency to naturally oppose entry into the CCJ, as in each referendum on the issue, they reduced a national issue to one of purely partisan concern, with eyes always only the next General Elections.
Under most of the constitutions bequeathed to former British colonies, any independent CARICOM nation seeking to amend the Constitution or the Privy Council can only do so with a two-thirds majority in parliament, or call a referendum.
But such a referendum can only be won with a two-thirds majority (66.6%) of the votes cast – a near impossibility in most Caribbean nations with a two-party majority system, as most General Elections in CARICOM states are won with smaller majorities based on the ‘First Past The Post’ Westminster system that still reigns supreme across the region.
In Grenada, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Antigua & Barbuda, the process of moving from the Privy Council to the CCJ was described by the respective opposition parties, in each case, as Governments trying to take control of the judicial system, to hand justice to less-able Caribbean judges.
They see no shame in openly arguing that Caribbean minds are less capable of understanding and judging Caribbean cases than Privy Council judges in London, all denying the obvious racist element underlining and over-pinning their partisan political arguments against Caribbean nations naturally joining the CCJ.
They know that seeking justice at the Privy Council is only natural but insist on opposing it just because they feel it’s a good subject to confuse people with by arguing that the governments want to prevent them from seeking justice from supposedly ‘better and more just’ English judges.
In Grenada, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Antigua & Barbuda, the opposition parties all treated the CCJ issue as a partisan affair, in each case making their support conditional on the government taking specific actions they demand, that will enhance their political interests — and hopefully advance their electoral chances.
Learning from those experiences in the three countries that called referenda over nine years, most ruling parties without a two-thirds mandate in parliament have been naturally unwilling, if not afraid, to call a referendum on the CCJ.
Constitutional requirements vary: Antigua’s constitution has an entrenched provision that requires a referendum, with two-thirds (66.6%) of the votes cast; Dominica was able to negotiate becoming a republic within the Commonwealth, which allowed it to automatically join the CCJ without a referendum; and Barbados and Guyana each acceded on their own will, without referenda.
In Saint Lucia’s case, there were long years of Constitutional Review consultations, at the end of which neither of the two major parties, each in government, opted to call a referendum to put the choice to the electorate, because both were uncertain of being able to win (with 66.6%).
But the current SLP-led government, winning 13 of the 17 seats in the last general elections and now with a safe parliamentary majority of 15-2, is able to proceed with all its promises: making the CCJ Saint Lucia’s Final Appellate Court, proceeding to Republican status and amending the constitution (if it so desires), all before the next General Elections in 2026.
Besides, the UWP is well aware of the legitimacy of the government’s move, as it also acknowledges, in the same statement, that “…it is ultimately up to the government to decide whether to adopt the CCJ as the final court of appeal…”
Indeed, when the UWP sought Independence for Saint Lucia in 1978, it was so in-a-hurry that instead of calling a referendum for the people’s consent, it decided instead to make Independence its main campaign issue for the 1979 General Elections, which it also handsomely lost 12-5 to the SLP.
As for calling for this government to get “the people’s consent”, that was done on July 26, 2021, with the people returning a 13-4 verdict that has metamorphosed into a 15-2 parliamentary majority – much more than two-thirds.
So, the UWP’s claim that ‘No Referendum, No CCJ’ is a waste of time and paper, as the party well-knows this administration is free to overcome the constitutional hurdles that have impeded other CARICOM member-states from taking their membership of the CCJ to the ultimate stage of making it their final Appellate Court.
And that fact does not require a referendum for people to understand.
In your article above entitled: Are Caribbean Political Parties Opposing the CCJ Just for Opposition Sake?
Please double check what appears to be an error in one of the paragraphs where it says:
“They know that seeking justice at the Privy Council is only natural but insist on opposing it just because they feel it’s a good subject to confuse people with by arguing that the governments want to prevent them from seeking justice from supposedly ‘better and more just’ English judges”.
Should the reference to “Privy Council” have been CCJ?