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The CCJ or the Privy Council?


Dear Editor,

English-speaking CARICOM nations are seeking to replace the London-based Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal.

Sir Shridath Ramphal

The way Caribbean leaders have treated this important issue has not been confidence-inspiring. CARICOM nations are rushing full speed ahead to embrace the court without giving their people a chance to discuss and debate it, much less to give their approval of the governments' decision.

That is a bad move and I urge the regional governments to allow their people a say in whether they should cut links with The Privy Council. Anyone who lived in Guyana during the dark days of Burnham's dictatorship would know of the considerable influence he had on judges. Judicial independence is not well liked in the Caribbean and if countries are going to subject themselves to the CCJ, then they should make sure that justice and fair play and freedom from political interference are guaranteed as they are in the Privy Council.

Except for Guyana , all of the English-speaking Caribbean territories are subject to the jurisdiction of the Privy Council. Guyana illegally broke away from the Privy Council in 1970 when Burnham's rubber stamp parliament, using his magic majority, voted to break ties with London . The Privy Council ruled recently that CARICOM countries cannot break ties with the Privy Council unless there is constitutional change in each country.

The parliament of each territory had tried to by-pass that process and simply pass laws to subject their people to the CCJ. The Privy Council's decision is welcome and would now force leaders to thread carefully on the issue and to make the right decision with regards to making the court the final appeal for the Caribbean .

I am in favour of an external court outside of a country's jurisdiction to be a country's final court of appeal. However, I feel countries should follow constitutional procedures in passing legislation to subject their countries to the court's jurisdiction. A government cannot arbitrarily pass a law using its majority in parliament on such an important matter. It should be debated and discussed and have the unanimous support of the elected officials of parliament.

I believe there should be a referendum on the matter (joining the CCJ) in each territory.

Guyana does not have an external court for people to appeal to if they feel judges were subjected to political pressure or bribery. So the CCJ as Guyana 's final court of appeal is welcome. However, I feel the matter should be put to a referendum. People should have a choice on whether they want the CCJ, the Privy Council or the current arrangement.

The PPP/C government should seek to right a historic wrong by allowing Guyanese a free vote on their final court of appeal. Polls I conducted in 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, and 2002 showed that two-thirds of Guyanese prefer the Privy Council as the final court of appeal. Let us see if people have confidence in a local or regional court.

Vishnu Bisram

Wednesday, February 16, 2005