Friday 24th November, 2006

 

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CCJ - the facts and figures

By Dr Michael Anthony Lilla

I refer to an article published in the Guardian of November 17, under the headline “CCJ—Jamaica speaks out.” The author of the article, Oscar Ramjeet, is described as “Guardian correspondent in Miami,” but the same article appeared in the Stabroek News in Guyana about two weeks before its publication in the Guardian.

Since this article seems to be working its way through the Caribbean, I would like to draw your attention and that of your readers to several pieces of misinformation contained in it, which serve to paint a very negative picture of the Caribbean Court of Justice. I point them out in the order in which they appear in the article.

It is not true to say that the court was “fully established” since April 16, 2005. That was the date of the court’s formal inauguration, but while the agreement establishing the court provides for nine judges, only six judges have so far been appointed and their assumption of duty was staggered over the period February 1, 2005, to July 1, 2005.

It is misleading to say that the court has not heard more than four appeals without mentioning that in addition to substantive appeals, the court has also heard and determined five applications for special leave to appeal.

Even though Mr Ramjeet is living in Miami, one would have expected him as a Guardian correspondent to know that it was not the Patrick Manning Government which on February 14, 2001, signed the agreement establishing the CCJ, but it was the then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, who signed the agreement. Mr Panday’s government also ratified the agreement and successfully lobbied for the seat of the court to be located in T&T.

With reference to the legal challenge of the legislation passed in T&T to give effect to the agreement establishing the court minus the provisions relating to the court’s appellate jurisdiction, one does not know on what basis Mr Ramjeet deems this challenge to have been “rightly” made, but one would have thought that as a former Solicitor-General of St Vincent and the Grenadines, he would have appreciated that it was inappropriate to comment on the merits of a pending matter which has not yet been adjudicated on by any court.

In relation to the Jamaican legislation which was overturned by the Privy Council, it is not correct to say that the Privy Council ruled that “only two-thirds of the electorate (sic) could remove the Privy Council as the final court.” In fact, the Judicial Committee accepted that the Privy Council could be removed as the final court of appeal for Jamaica by a simple majority in the Parliament, but held that to substitute the CCJ for the Privy Council required a two-thirds majority, not of “the electorate” but of both Houses of Parliament.

Mr Ramjeet writes that “it is said” of the President of the CCJ that he “gets a tax-free salary of US$180,000 an annum, almost as much as the President of the US, plus fantastic allowances.” Mr Ramjeet unfortunately does not indicate by whom this is supposed to have been said, but whoever he may be, he has managed to overstate the President of the CCJ’s salary by 25 per cent (in the case of the other judges, their salaries are overstated by a margin of 20 per cent).

The CCJ President’s so-called “fantastic” allowances consist of a housing allowance of US $3,500 a month, an overseas travel allowance of US$10,000 every two years and a library allowance of US$2,000 an annum.

As for the suggestion that the CCJ President’s salary approximates that of the President of the US, the American President receives a basic salary (exclusive of allowances) of US$400,000 an annum. This information is so easily available, eg on the Internet, that one is driven to question Mr Ramjeet’s motive in making (or repeating) such an absurd comparison.

In the article, Mr Ramjeet reports an “exclusive” interview with a former Attorney-General of Jamaica, Dr Ossie Harding, SC. He records Dr Harding as saying that “the CCJ is bent on retaining the death penalty.”

It is difficult even to imagine what basis Dr Harding could possibly have had for such a pronouncement. Normally the views and policy of a court are to be found in its judgments.

The only judgment which the CCJ has delivered to date with regard to the death penalty was in an appeal from Barbados of Boyce and Joseph, two men who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In that case, the CCJ unanimously upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal of Barbados to commute both death sentences.

Dr Harding is also quoted in the article as saying that it was “regrettable” that the President of the court had chastised the Privy Council for ruling as it did in the constitutional case challenging the CCJ legislation in Jamaica. The reference is presumably to the 7th William G Demas Memorial Lecture which the President of the CCJ, Michael de la Bastide, delivered in Jamaica in May.

In that lecture Mr de la Bastide did not “chastise” the Privy Council for its decision but he critically examined the reasoning of the Judicial Committee which underpinned the judgment and explained why he thought it was faulty. There is nothing to regret about such an exercise which is commonly carried out by lawyers on judgments delivered by courts, however eminent.

Reasoned and respectful criticism of court judgments is essential for the development of a sound and suitable jurisprudence, and is to be encouraged, not frowned upon. Indeed, members of the Judicial Committee themselves have on occasion been sharply critical of views expressed by their colleagues with which they disagree.

Mr Ramjeet also purports to report a statement allegedly made by Dr Lloyd Barnett (who incidentally is a member of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission).

Dr Barnett is quoted by Mr Ramjeet as having said that “the CCJ had not met its expectations” and as having “expressed his disappointment.” The report thereby creates the impression that Dr Barnett was disappointed at the failure of the court to live up to what was expected of it.

His attention having been drawn to the article, Dr Barnett has stated categorically that what he expressed disappointment at was not the performance of the CCJ, but the failure of Caricom countries other than Barbados and Guyana to adopt its appellate jurisdiction.

It is regrettable that a piece which is so replete with damaging distortions should have been published by daily newspapers in two Caricom countries.

Dr Michael Anthony Lilla is the court protocol and information officer of the CCJ

 

 

 

 

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