Chairman of the Committee set up to oversee the accession of Saint Lucia to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) sees the move as a tangible prerequisite towards providing a greater level of justice for ordinary citizens.
Sir Denis Byron said that this is in keeping with the commitment of Saint Lucia, as one of the Caribbean community nations that were signatories to the agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice in 2001.
Sir Denis explained that Saint Lucia is among the Caribbean countries that has paid its full share of the Trust Fund of US $100 million, which was set up to finance the operations of the court; with Saint Lucia contributing in excess of US$2 million.
On the structure of the court, he explained that the CCJ has two distinct jurisdictions. Firstly, is to determine how the CARICOM Single Market and Economy functions and “it provides stability and legal certainty through the uniform interpretation and application of a long and difficult system.”
He said the second jurisdiction involves serving as the final court of appeal to replace the Privy Council as the court of last resort in civil and criminal matters.
As Saint Lucia initiates measures for accession to the CCJ – as a replacement for the Privy Council – and to become the country’s final appellate court, mechanisms are being put in place for this eventual transition.
For the past 18 years or so, the island has been involved in the process of drafting legislation to meet that goal, following in the footsteps of other Caribbean states that has taken that route.
Ultimately, when Saint Lucia adopts this jurisdiction as its final court of appeal, it will join Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana as the fifth CARICOM nation to do so.
At a press briefing, on Thursday, members of the CCJ (Accession) Committee updated reporters on the measures that has been undertaken, thus far.
Sir Denis listed some of the major constitutional revisions that led to the process, which included passing the CCJ Agreement Act, in 2003, “to implement the agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice”. Subsequently, in 2005, parliament also passed the CCJ Amendment Act, whose purpose was to incorporate legislation relating to judicial personality and legal capacity of the court.
While expounding on the merits for accession to the CCJ, the former chief justice noted that over the past 17 years, Saint Lucia has submitted only 17 appeals to the Privy Council. Consequently, he stated: “This means that the Privy Council has had very little impact on the delivery of justice on the citizens of this country. By contrast, it is expected that the Caribbean Court of Justice will provide much greater access to justice to ordinary citizens of Saint Lucia, as it has done with the other countries which it serves.”
Sir Denis added that the CCJ has been a leader in court technology. He said: “Caribbean lawyers and litigants who have appeared before it, have commended it for their experience and comfort, trust, and confidence with the judges. Its judgments are timely and internationally respected.”
Quoting from a recent speech delivered by a leading regional legal practitioner, he said, “It has rapidly become the ‘nerve centre’ of the regional justice eco-system that supports and promotes judicial administrative reform, judicial and legal training and many other aspects of justice.”
Sir Denis said most importantly, he hopes that, “the jurisprudence in the court is linked to the morals and the culture of our people.”
Other members of the CCJ (Accession) Committee, includes Ms. Renee St. Rose, Mathew Roberts, David Vitalis, and Rene Williams.
Attorney General Leslie Mondesir, at the press conference, recalled that during the Throne Speech, in March, the acting Governor General Errol Charles hinted about the island’s intention to join the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ.
Presently, the Commonwealth of Dominica is the only Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) country that has accessed the CCJ and they did so, in 2015.
“As we are aware,” he said. “The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council sits at the apex of Saint Lucia’s judicial system…and that the Privy Council is our Court of Final Appeal in all substantial criminal and civil cases. Therefore, establishing the CCJ as our final court will require constitutional amendment.”
Mondesir said government feels accessing to the CCJ Appellate Jurisdiction “is a necessary step in order to complete our Independence.”
He noted that after 43 years of Independence, crucial decisions that affects the daily lives of the citizenry and including the people’s constitutional rights are being made by foreign court.
“This is no longer acceptable, when Caribbean courts have consistently demonstrated their capability to render justice in a fair and impartial manner,” he added.
The attorney general explained that Heads of Government within the CARICOM grouping have no say in the appointment of CCJ judges, except for the appointment of the President of the Court.
“All other appointments are made by the independent Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) …this commission has a rotating membership with no one government having any control as to its composition.”
Notably, the CCJ is funded by a unique mechanism – a Trust Fund that is established whereby all governments, including Saint Lucia contributes. “This fund avoids the possibility, however remote of government exerting indirect pressure on the court,” he said.
Mondesir stated that Saint Lucia is on the path to making a significant change to the constitution, since the country’s attainment of Independence, in 1979.
Consequently, he added, the authorities appointed the CCJ (Accession) Committee. The committee’s mandate is two-fold. Firstly, to guide the accession process and among other things to advise on the draft legislation and to ensure that timelines are met and reports regularly made to the government.
The committee is also tasked with leading a public education campaign “to inform and educate the public on the accession process, and more importantly, the roles and function of the CCJ.”
Mondesir said the United Kingdom has responded with its “non objection” for Saint Lucia to begin the legal process of terminating appeals to the Privy Council.
The attorney general noted that a referendum is not required to complete the accession process, once the UK agrees to the transition.
He said in the next few weeks, “the draft legislation to amend Saint Lucia’s constitution to provide for access to the CCJ will be circulated for public comment.”
Subsequently, Mondesir added, “the legislation will thereafter be laid before parliament in accordance with the procedures set out …as of our constitution.”