FORMER prime minister Basdeo Panday is viewing with suspicion the timing of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's announcement, on Wednesday, of Government's intention to introduce legislation to have the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court in local criminal matters.
Speaking with the Express yesterday, Panday said he does not know what made the issue so urgent.
"I was rather surprised that the Prime Minister, who did not attend Parliament, or rather, attended Parliament only for that purpose," Panday said.
"That makes me a little suspicious as to whether it was to draw a red herring, a diversion from another important matter being raised in the Parliament on that day involving the expenditure of public funds on (her sister and personal assistant) Mrs (Vidwatie) Newton."
On the issue of the CCJ, Panday said he wants to know on what basis was the decision made to move away from the criminal jurisdiction of the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).
"Those who are in the Government now, when they were in the Opposition along with myself, had said that we would agree to abolishing the Privy Council if the people wanted it and if the people had expressed an opinion that they had the confidence in the CCJ.
"But we got the impression (at that time) that the people did not want the Privy Council to be abolished. Now the Government is going ahead with that. It seems to me that they would need to have a referendum to find out whether the people have the confidence in the Caribbean Court of Justice because it is extremely important that people have confidence in the judicial system.
"I noticed the Prime Minister had said the Government is not removing the civil jurisdiction because the international business community does not have confidence in the CCJ. Now, if the international business community does not have confidence in the CCJ, shouldn't the people of Trinidad and Tobago be given an opportunity to say whether they have confidence or not? Is not a referendum the way to go to find that out?"
In her statement, Persad-Bissessar said the Privy Council has an international reputation as being one of the finest commercial and civil law courts in the world.
She said the Privy Council inspires confidence in foreign investors and its retention, in this regard, is conducive to an investor-friendly climate at a time when the international economic order is changing and Trinidad and Tobago is attempting to woo foreign investment from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Panday described as worrying the decision to separate the criminal from the civil jurisdiction of the Privy Council. He said it seems the move to have the CCJ hear and determine criminal appeals is to facilitate the quick implementation of the death penalty.
"But if they want to resume hanging, and (if) the people want that, surely what is required before that is to amend the laws with respect to murder.
"As you know, in Trinidad and Tobago, the death penalty is for all kinds of murder unlike the United States (where you have categories). There was a Bill that was introduced into Parliament by this Government to that effect which the Opposition did not (vote in support of). I think they should deal with that matter before they withdraw the criminal jurisdiction of the Privy Council."
Panday was asked to explain why the country, while he was prime minister, was made a signatory to the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which established the CCJ in 2001.
"We were part of Caricom and we said that we would become signatories to the Treaty (of Chaguaramas) but we would (become part of the CCJ) only if we had the approval of the people. We made that very clear. If you check the Hansard records of Parliament you would see that it was being said over and over.
"We can go to the CCJ but it should not be the final court. From the CCJ, we should be able to go to the Privy Council until such time that the people express their confidence in the CCJ. That has always been our argument."