- the facts and figures
Dr Michael Anthony Lilla
I refer to an article published in the Guardian of November
17, under the headline CCJJamaica 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 courts
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 Pandays government also ratified the agreement and
successfully lobbied for the seat of the court to be located
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 courts 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 CCJs 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 Presidents 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 Presidents 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 Ramjeets
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
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