With Saint Lucia’s accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the island’s ultimate appellate jurisdiction on the cards –there has been much debate on this significant national issue.
There has also been mutual consensus among government legislators and senators in the lower and upper houses towards the transition to the CCJ, despite objections from the opposition.
Independent Senator Deale Lee provided some clarification on the merits in the process of attaining this “historic” milestone for the country.
Lee, a lawyer by profession, spoke of his growing up in the midst of the “independence struggle”, while noting the country “had not completed our move to independence …and there were still steps that we have to take”. He noted that a cause of concern on the CCJ issue was that a majority of the local citizenry were not fully informed about the regional court’s function.
Stating that part of the problem lies with the country’s education system, Lee contended: “Because from 2005, Saint Lucia has been subject to the jurisdiction of the CCJ as part of the original jurisdiction of that court. And the fact that persons seem not to understand even that, is extremely disappointing …it means that persons either have not taken the opportunity to educate themselves about the CCJ or the systems that ought to be teaching them about it have failed completely.”
Lee explained that the CCJ was established by an agreement in 2001, as a “two-part court”. He referred to the case involving Jamaican national Shanique Myrie vs. Barbados as one of the earliest rulings to be delivered within the ambit of the CCJ “emphasizing that the right of freedom of movement is a fundamental right of all persons in the Caribbean.”
Referring to the Appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, he said, “Our legal system is a hierarchical one…so what we are doing is removing the Privy Council at the top of our legal system and replacing it with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).”
Lee noted that several judgments and speeches from the CCJ luminaries are available for public scrutiny and so, “the court is not just speaking transparency, it is actively practising it. One of the priorities of the Caribbean Court of Justice was to ensure
that as part of the fabric of Caribbean society (it) provide ready information on (its) operation.”
The senator adds there has been much speculation and criticism about the function of the CCJ, stemming from imposing ‘hanging’ convictions, to judges being influenced by politicians. However, he explained, “In the framing and the design of the Caribbean Court of Justice that very threat or very risk was taken into consideration…and so, concrete steps were taken to isolate and insulate the court from any form of influence. Not just political, but we have economic influence.”
How does the CCJ operate?
Firstly, declared Lee, “To ensure that the court is not beholden to anyone, you have the establishment of a Trust Fund that has been bandied around and persons understand that a US $100 million was put aside prior to the formation of the court to help fund the court’s operations.
Cognizant of the living expenses and sometimes delayed remuneration that judges have to undertake due to travels across regional territories, he said, “the trust fund is administered by a Board of Trustees, which comprises of the following persons; the secretary general of the Caribbean community, the vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies ( The UWI), the president of the Insurance Association of the Caribbean, the chairman of the Association of Indigenous Banks of the Caribbean, the president of the Caribbean Institute of Chartered Accountants, the president of the Association of Commonwealth Bar Associations, the chairman of the Conference Heads of the Judiciary of the Caribbean community, the president of the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce and the president of the Caribbean Congress of Labour.”
He noted that apart from these persons being recognised as citizens of repute, there is a sense of “Caribbeanness” and this involves “collective action as much as possible…and these are the persons who in their own judgment decide how to invest the fund, how much funds to withdraw from it and to help support the operations of the CCJ.”
Lee added, “The CCJ is endowed with its own money, which it controls, its own budgets and how these budgets are spent”.
He said the CCJ is designed to administer justice for both rich and poor.
On the other end, he cited the functions of the Regional Judicial Services Commission “which is responsible for the appointment and removal, if necessary, of judges.”
Lee stressed: “Politicians have no role …in the appointment of the Regional Judicial Services Commission. The politicians only come into play in terms of appointing the president …and at which point there must be unity.”
He asserted: “The framers of the agreement establishing the CCJ went to lengths and were very innovative … and there is no other court that has that level of insulation and protection from influences of any kind.”
Lee further argued that while some persons view this “momentous occasion” as a completion of the country’s circle of independence, nevertheless, according to him “Independence like progress is a continuing …and we are not taking the final steps of our independence but rather a leap forward in controlling and shaping our destiny in ordering the dreams of our fore bearers and developing a fully- fledged Saint Lucian and by extension Caribbean civilization.”
Also speaking at last Thursday’s senate sitting, Leader of Government Business Senator Guibion Ferdinand reiterated that “justice comes with a cost”.
He added: “And if you are not on the same playing field with someone else and you are denied justice because you cannot afford it …it is in violation of your constitutional rights as a human being.”
Senator Allison Jean argued that the majority of Saint Lucians voted in favour of the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) accessing the CCJ, while they rejected the UWP’s claims for objecting to that move.
“July 26, 2021 took place and it has given the St Lucia Labour Party the right to take Saint Lucia to the CCJ …,” said Jean.
Jean noted that with such major institutions in the region providing academic, financial, trade and other support services to the citizenry it is inevitable that “the trajectory in which Saint Lucia is going is positive, has the best interest of the people …by building institutions that would create stability for our people, access to justice for our people, fairness for our people so that the man on the street can have a better quality of life.”
Moving forward, she proposed that one of the concerns “should be greater scrutiny of judges” for selection to the CCJ.