Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar gave her commitment in principle to Trinidad and Tobago’s eventual accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (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 on Tuesday evening at the official opening of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, that accession is inevitable.
But, she said, in Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitution, the UK-based Privy Council as the country’s highest appellate court is “one of the most entrenched provisions”, which will not allow a simple majority to remove.
“Accession to the CCJ is inevitable, not only for T&T but all of us in the Caribbean. That is inevitable. The question is always one of when. We’ve had a commission set up for Constitutional Reform and the commissioners have suggested that this should be done only after a referendum from (citizens),” she said. This referendum will not be passed by a simple majority, she added, but by at least two-thirds or even a three-quarters majority.
Yes, there was pressure on Trinidad and Tobago, she said, but with greatest respect, what is the position of the other Caricom nations?
Persad-Bissessar, who was intended to deliver the feature address at the ceremony, ended up defending Trinidad and Tobago’s stance regarding accession—especially since the seat of the CCJ is located on Henry Street, Port of Spain.
As the final speaker of the night, Persad-Bissessar was obliged to respond to what she called “the elephant in the room”, since almost all the previous speakers—faculty dean Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Law Association president Seenath Jairam, and president of the CCJ Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, all noted in their respective addresses the need for a regional Court of Appeal, particularly because of the high quality of the legal fraternity in the Caribbean.
“Although we train our lawyers on Caribbean soil, we still journey to foreign soil seeking justice. The CCJ is at the apex of three Caribbean countries (Barbados, Belize and Guyana), although the accord for (its) establishment was signed by all twelve (Caricom) countries. All signatories committed to the accession ... determinate of the court in the further development of Caribbean jurisprudence and deepening of the regional integration process. The CCJ stands ready and willing to fulfil its destined role in the economic development and social stability of the region. It stands as a testament to our ability to govern ourselves and develop a body of jurisprudence reflective of our unique Caribbean morals and values. Accession to the appellate jurisdictional court is the next logical step in the region’s evolution,” Byron said in his address.
Persad-Bissessar noted that two years ago she had suggested to Caricom leaders that Trinidad and Tobago be allowed a phased accession to the court, making it the final court of appeal for criminal matters, with the Privy Council the final court for civil matters.
“I remain committed to the future jurisprudence for the region. It’s not an issue that we do not have confidence in the persons attached to the court, but we have concerns with the process and the time,” she said.