Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Timely advice from Justice Nelson

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Mark Fraser

In raising financial concerns about the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Rolston Nelson has succeeded in bringing the thorny issue of the CCJ back into much-needed focus.

Tackling the CCJ’s problem of tight finance opens up more than the issue of money; it brings into the open once again the matter of our commitment to the CCJ.

After its judgment in the Shanique Myrie case, one would have expected Caricom governments to have finally grasped the importance of a final Caribbean court of appeal, steeped in an understanding of the region and its issues. The quality of the judgment also erased all doubt about the intellectual capacity of our top judges. And yet, countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica remain as far away as ever from settling down to a committed relationship with the CCJ.

Given such ambivalence, Justice Nelson’s warning is a timely intervention.

According to him, the CCJ now faces a financing challenge. Thanks to the global financial crisis, the US$100 million trust set up in 2006 to fund the court’s operations is proving insufficient for its continued work. In his view, the whole question of the operational costs of the CCJ has never been seriously looked at. Given the pioneering nature of the court, one can accept a certain amount of rough calculations and unforeseen costs. However, the experience of eight years should provide greater information for more precise budgeting. Justice Nelson’s call for a review of the US$100 million CCJ initiative should therefore be urgently heeded as a natural process of organisational management.

We cannot afford for this ship of justice to run aground for lack of finance, nor should we risk the danger of impaired delivery of justice due to lack of funds.

The point has been raised that an imbalance in funding support for the CCJ by different Caricom countries could lead to fears of bias. This need not follow. Regional blocs all over the world contend routinely with the different capabilities of their members. The critical component is not how much money one partner puts in, but how the system is designed to ensure equity, notwithstanding disparities in one variable or another.

The critical priority now is for a timely review of the financing and financial structure underpinning the CCJ’s operations and for Caricom countries to settle their relationship with the CCJ.

Sometime ago, the eminent Sir Shridath Ramphal advised regional governments “to stop lingering on the doorstep of colonialism” and embrace the CCJ. Clearly, the advice has fallen on deaf ears.

In Jamaica, the Opposition JLP is promoting a local final court of appeal, much to the chagrin of a large section of the Jamaican population. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Government’s ambivalence has translated into an awkward dual relationship, with T&T accepting the CCJ as a final court in criminal matters while retaining the Privy Council for civil matters. Even that plan, launched with great fanfare by the Prime Minister, has gone nowhere. The time has come to get off the fence and into the future.