Caribbean governments must accept CCJ as final arbiter


*Guest Post by Geraldine Coughlan

The President of the ICTY, Jamaican judge Patrick Robinson, has scolded members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), who still use Britain’s Privy Council as their final court of appeal. He is backed up by Sir Dennis Byron, the President of the ICTR, who is from St. Kitts. Speaking in Barbados, Judge Robinson called for all countries in CARICOM to use the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), as their final appellate jurisdiction. He said it was “disgraceful” that only three countries – Barbados, Guyana and Belize, have accepted the CCJ as their final court of appeal. The other countries use the CCJ in its original jurisdiction only, relying on the Privy Council for final judgment. Judge Robinson said the full potential of law in the region cannot be realised with reliance on the Privy Council, and that, “it won’t be achieved until we are the final arbiters of what is law in the Caribbean”. He argued that judicial sovereignty is “a natural companion” of political sovereignty, and that, “law in the Caribbean cannot be truly transformative until that time”.

Structurally, the CCJ is an interesting hybrid. It is both a final appellate court for criminal and civil cases and the tribunal that resolves treaty disputes between member states. As a hybrid institution, the CCJ is both a municipal court of last resort and an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community. As an appellate court, the CCJ decides on both civil and criminal matters from common law courts within the jurisdictions of member states. In its original jurisdiction, the CCJ functions as an international tribunal, applying rules of international law in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty. In this regard, the CCJ performs functions like the European Court of Justice, the European Court of First Instance, the Andean Court of Justice and the International Court of Justice.

The two countries that have notoriously held off on submitting to the CCJ as a final court of appeal are Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Lawyer Philip Dayle said that the absence of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago has led to a paltry case load for a court that is hugely expensive to maintain. The “true mettle of the CCJ has not been tested”, he said, adding that, “the jury is out on whether the court will be transformative in developing the jurisprudence of the region”. It is expected that the two Caribbean states that will have the most difficulty accessing the court will be Surinam, which has a Dutch-based legal system, and Haiti, which has a French-based legal system. All other member states have British-based legal systems with the CCJ itself being predominantly modeled after the British system. However, the admission of Surinam and Haiti to CARICOM, has at least, somewhat modified the jurisprudential mix of the community.

Caribbean court of justice: a model for international courts?

Caribbean Court of Justice

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