The opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) does not reject the idea of a referendum nor is it calling, at this time, for further public consultations as it relates to the government’s recent announcement of a referendum to decide which court will be Antigua and Barbuda’s final appellate court.
Currently, the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is the country’s final court of appeal. However, the Caribbean Court of Justice, established in 2001, is now an option to replace the Council.
Yesterday, the UPP’s political leader, Harold Lovell, said the party still holds its original position about the scope of any planned referendum in Antigua and Barbuda.
“Our position was articulated many months ago when we said that we feel that the CCJ issue should be placed within the whole context of constitutional reform so that there is a better and clearer understanding of the issue of the CCJ,” he said.
Among the “non-contentious issues” that the UPP political leader outlined earlier to be included on the referendum are: changing the head of state from governor general to president; dual citizenship should not bar one from becoming a parliamentarian; and allowing religious ministers to serve in Parliament, among other things.
Lovell’s latest comment follows the statement by the current attorney general, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, who said the government will proceed with the referendum soon.
“My prime minister has given me instructions that within the next 120 days this country will be going to the referendum to have Antigua decide whether we should accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice. We have caught the vision, and we, Sir Dennis, will live that dream,” he said.
Benjamin was speaking at Wednesday’s special retirement sitting for CCJ president, Sir Dennis Byron.
Lovell said his personal position about moving to the CCJ has not changed.
“I support the establishment and accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, so I make no bones about the fact that I will support the accession…so, I will be voting yes. But as far as the official party position is concerned, we will allow people to vote their conscience,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lovell said he believes that the idea put forward by former attorney general, Justin Simon QC, for a simultaneous regional referendum on the CCJ, would take the politics out of it and thus it would get the people’s support.
“If we take a regional approach, the arguments can be not just Antigua, but the arguments would then be as far as the OECS region is concerned. And, so persons in Grenada would not see it as a matter of government versus opposition. Similarly, in the other territories – St. Vincent, Antigua, persons would be able to look at it from the point of view of what it actually means for us as a Caribbean people,” he said.
In 2016, the government started an island-wide education campaign in preparation for a referendum on the CCJ. But it later halted the process and blamed the opposition for having to make that decision as it accused the UPP of a lack of support.
Currently, although all Caricom countries turn to the CCJ to decide on trade issues in its original jurisdiction, only four out of 15 nations have signed on to the regional court in its appellate jurisdiction. These are Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana.
Other Caricom countries use the London-based Privy Council.