“GIVE us a chance”.
This was the impassioned plea made by Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) president Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron on Wednesday night as he called on this country to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) its final court of appeal in place of the Privy Council.
Byron called on citizens to let their voices be heard in this regard as he lauded the improvements that will be made in this country’s judicial system once the CCJ becomes the final appellate court.
He made the statements in the feature address he delivered at The University of the West Indies’ Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) 15th annual conference at Hyatt Regency hotel, Port of Spain.
The feature address at the three-day conference was entitled “Caribbean Development: Standing Still or Standing Tall? Theoretical, Empirical and Policy Challenges”.
According to Byron, “despite these fundamental changes ushered in by the CCJ in the area of Caribbean development, I must draw attention to one cycle in our region’s evolution which remains to be realised, that of accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the court”.
“This is the only area of Caribbean development where I am willing to concede that the epithet of ‘standing’ seems apposite,” he said.
“On April 16, the CCJ celebrated its ninth anniversary,” Byron said.
“After nine years, we still have not received the region’s full embrace. I must emphasise that this state of affairs is at odds with the commitment undertaken by the parties to the agreement establishing the court,” Byron said.
“All signatories committed to the accession to the court in its appellate jurisdiction, convinced of the ‘determinative role of the court in the further development of Caribbean jurisprudence’ and ‘the deepening of the regional integration process’,” Byron said.
Byron said all signatories, bar one, signed the agreement without reservation.
“Yet nine years later, reservations persist. The court is funded by the region but is not used,” he said.
“The court has distinguished judges, well-trained staff, modern technology, video conferencing, e-filing, a Regional Judicial and Legal Service Commission all of which are designed to ensure that we deliver high quality justice to the people of our region. Yet reservations remain,” Byron said.
Byron called on the “scholarly gathering” to play a “central role” in ensuring reservations surrounding the CCJ are dispelled.
Speaking to members of the media following the opening ceremony, Byron said he did not notice citizens making their voices heard on the issue.
“I don’t notice that there is a call for the CCJ to become the final court of appeal of the country. I don’t notice that the people are saying that we think it is time that the CCJ should be the final appeal court of the country,” he said.
“A government is entitled to say we want to hear the voice of the people and if the people speak one would expect that it will get the government to make an appropriate response,” Byron said.
Byron said the CCJ would correct many of the shortcomings in the local courts.
“We are bringing something to the table which the Privy Council is not bringing to the table and cannot bring to the table because we bring the opportunity to providing judicial education, programmes, providing assistance to improving the quality of justice and we think that we have the capacity to do it, we have the will to do it and we think we deserve a chance to do it, and we think many of the things of which you are complaining now while the Privy Council is the head court will change if you give us a chance in this area,” Byron said.
“Since we have been functioning we have established a very fine record of the speed and certainty in which our judgments are delivered ... we have no backlog and all our cases are functioned expeditiously. If we were the final court we would find ways of transferring the technology and the systems we apply to our country people in our region,” he said.
Speaking at the official opening of The UWI’s Faculty of Law last week, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar gave her commitment in principle to Trinidad and Tobago’s eventual accession to the CCJ as its highest court of appeal, even as she declared the ultimate decision will be made by citizens through a national referendum. Persad-Bissessar said accession is inevitable.
“In 2012, Trinidad and Tobago failed in its attempt to have Caricom amend the law governing the CCJ to allow for its partial accession for criminal matters,” Byron said.