President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Sir Dennis Byron says the role of the press cannot be underestimated and that it should be completely independent of political control or alliance.
Addressing the tenth anniversary celebrations of the St Kitts-based privately-owned radio station, WINN98.9, at the weekend, Sir Dennis, a former chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, said that the media, like the judiciary, must "seek to maintain good governance and the rule of law".
"As we forge a democratic society the role of the press cannot be under-estimated. There are several similarities between the best journalists and the best judges—they have to share qualities of fair mindedness, honesty, balance and impartiality," said Sir Dennis, former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
"They have to carry out their duties diligently and without fear and favour. They demand accountability, they attack injustice and the abuse of power," he said, noting that like the judiciary, the media serves the society best when it is completely independent of political control or alliance.
Addressing the work of the Trinidad-based CCJ, which was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region's highest court, Sir Dennis said the institution recently completed several months of a highly participatory consultative process, involving the judiciary and civil society, and also launched a five-year strategic plan.
"We had a major media event to inform the public, and we sought to gain the press interest and attraction to what we have been doing, but you are the first media house that has invited us to feature in an event such as this," said Sir Dennis.
The Strategic Plan 2013-2017 aims to guide the CCJ's decision-making process and to ensure that resources are applied in the most effective manner. The Port of Spain-based CCJ, now in its seventh year, is recognised by all 15-member states of Caribbean Community (Caricom) as the only authority to settle treaty disputes, but only Guyana, Barbados and Belize have recognised it as their court of final appeal. Others cling to the London-based Privy Council.
"Our mission guarantees accessibility, fairness, efficiency, transparency and delivering clear and just decisions in a timely manner. The plan also identifies the values by which the Court and its staff are guided," Sir Dennis said.
He told the function that members of the public do not seem to know how much work the CCJ has been doing regarding regional integration disputes, noting it has adjudicated in more than 70 matters since its inception.
The CCJ also functions as an internal tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that guides the 15-member Caricom grouping.