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Civil society can help switchover to the CCJ

Court president:

By Keino Swamber keino.swamber@trinidadexpress.com

Sir Dennis Byron, president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), says pressure from civil society and the legal profession in Trinidad and Tobago could hasten the process of this country acceding to the final appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.

Byron says it is time for civil society to say something on the issue.

"I feel that the politicians have done a lot of the work already.

"They have created the legislative and the institutional framework. What I am not hearing is, in particular, the voice of the legal profession here in Trinidad. The (Criminal) Bar Association has not made a public statement. In fact, I have heard public statements coming from the Southern Assembly of Lawyers but not from the Law (Association). I think that if the civil society were to stand up and speak openly and require of the Government to move, it would make a significant contribution to the pace at which this occurs."

Byron was the guest speaker at a luncheon hosted by Trinidad Union Club at Nicholas Towers in Port of Spain yesterday.

He said the quality of justice delivery and the access to justice have an important impact on both economic development and social stability.

"In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, earlier this year the Government, through the Prime Minister, announced Government's intention to accede to the final appellate jurisdiction in stages. It indicated that it will start with the criminal jurisdiction and then move towards the civil jurisdiction. So as far as I am concerned, one can say that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has announced its intention to accede to the final appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice."

Byron said Trinidad and Tobago, having celebrated its 50th anniversary of Independence this year, boasts with pride of outstanding achievements in music, sports, literature, education, theatre and many other areas.

"I think the country is well suited now to have its own centres of excellence in the judicial field and this is a very good time to complete the circle of Independence."

Byron said this country's reputation of producing top legal minds is well renowned.

"It probably won't be fair to the rest of the Caribbean region to be deprived of the full benefit of Trinidad and Tobago's scholarship, which can contribute directly to the advancement of regional jurisprudence."

Byron also lamented that the administration of justice throughout the region, including Trinidad and Tobago, continues to be deprived of funding.

"For example, in the OECS islands of Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada, the 2012 budgetary allocation for the judiciary was set at EC$1,742,688 and EC$5,885,000, respectively. This is against a national budget for Antigua of $758 million, which represented a mere 0.23 per cent of the national revenue.

"In Grenada, the figure represented 0.58 per cent of the national revenue.

"In Trinidad, the 2012/2013 budget was stated to be the largest ever in Trinidad at approximately $37.4 billion and, out of that sum, approximately $430 million was allocated to the judiciary. This represents only 0.75 per cent of the annual budget. There are similar trends in Jamaica.

"I would suggest that these budgetary allocations are inadequate in the sense that the wealthier a country is, the larger the investment in the judiciary should be. One would expect to see a higher percentage point of the national revenue allocated to justice delivery."

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