ST JOHN’S, Antigua, May 18, CMC – Attorney General Justin Simon has criticised the governments of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) for not doing enough to ensure that the population within the sub-region are fully educated on the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
“Unfortunately the OECS governments have so far been paying lip service to the whole idea of the CCJ. But I think the time has now come for the OECS governments together to formulate a plan in respect of information and education throughout the OECS territories,” Simon told a panel discussion here on Thursday night.
He said that much of the opposition to the CCJ, which was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court of appeal, is due to a lack of information and knowledge including by persons who fell aggrieved by decisions of the Court of Appeal.
He blamed the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis of doing little to correct the mis-information about the CCJ, which also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.
Most of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have signed on to the original jurisdiction of the court while only Barbados, Guyana and Belize are signatories to the appellate jurisdiction.
Trinidad and Tobago has indicated it will allow for limited appeals to the appellate jurisdiction, while Jamaica has signalled its intention to join the court as soon as possible.
Simon told the forum organised by the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) that regional leaders needed to stop dragging their feet on the issue.
“You are going to have people who are opposing, you are going to have people who are ignorant of some of the facts, but we need forums like this to be able to share our concerns (and) to address our concerns and to be able to convince people that the CCJ is the way to go,” he said.
Attorney John Fuller, who also participated in the forum, said the CCJ is inevitable and would take full effect in the region, sooner rather than later.
He said the court has sufficient build in mechanism to protect against political interference and to ensure its independence.
“The particulars of the court are important because they completely defeat…arguments there can be no more interference. There is no ole boys club, there is no tennis club…it does not work that way these days.
“We have to go forward and we have been able to look back upon these years and years on which we made decisions of importance concerning our future,” he added.
Former ABWU general secretary, Ambassador Sir Keithlyn Smith, told the discussion that the CCJ cannot be insulated from political interference, arguing that regional leaders did not trust the judges at the time their countries gained independence and as a result made it difficult to replace the Privy Council.
He said Antigua and Barbuda should not replace the London-based court at this stage of its development.
“I have a problem with replacing the Privy Council at this stage. Now sometimes, you can’t stick at one place for ever but I just wish to say that… I am not satisfied as well that the judges in the Caribbean islands are not controlled to a large extent by the governments (and) the politicians.”