KINGSTOWN St. Vincent – As the eight-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) moves to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its appellate jurisdiction, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says this will not be used to disregard the decision of Vincentians in the 2009 constitution referendum.
Replacing the London-based Privy Council with the CCJ as this country’s highest court was among the changes to this country’s Constitution that Vincentians rejected in the 2009 referendum.
OECS heads of government, at their recent meeting in St. Lucia, committed to join the CCJ in appellate jurisdiction.
But Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, in discussing the development with journalists here last week, noted citizens’ rejection of the proposed changes to the Constitution in 2009.
He said that the move by the OECS would not be used as a backdoor entrance to the CCJ.
“But I have to report what the situation is,” he told reporters.
“And let me just say this: I am not looking for a way through the backdoor to come out of the [Privy Council]. Let me restate the position, reaffirm it, that it was put to a referendum, the people defeated it. I accept that,” Gonsalves said.
“If, however, another option arises and it is demanded of me by the entire Parliament, then that is a different question. But I am not looking for any backdoor to the CCJ,” he further stated.
He said that when Vincentians see the move by other OECS countries they “may be pulled along” but maintained that accession to the CCJ “is a matter for determination by the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He added: “It is not a matter anymore on which we can initiate something. We initiated something that failed. I accept the verdict. I have no choice.”
Gonsalves said that if there is “an all party agreement on a particular item” then Parliament “might be able to go forward with it”.
The constitutions of Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) do not require a referendum to allow the switch to the CCJ.
However, both nations require a special majority in their respective parliaments and then negotiations with the British government to terminate the relationship with the Privy Council.
Gonsalves said that Dominica is best placed to join the CCJ because of its government’s special majority in parliament while SKN will need the support of the opposition.
This country and St. Lucia have similar constitutions and the Dr. Kenny Anthony government in Castries will ask the Court of Appeal for advice on how to proceed because of uncertainly about whether or not a referendum is needed to allow the change, Gonsalves said.
“Obviously, if the opinion in St. Lucia is favourable that you don’t have to go to a referendum, … it would mean that that advisory opinion would be applicable also to us,” Gonsalves said.
“But, we have gone to a referendum and the only way you are going to be able to get past that is if you have a unanimous approach in the House and then to proceed to any negotiation. But we, as I see it, are lower down the scale, the totem pole, so to speak, in that regard,” he added.
Gonsalves said that while Antigua and Barbuda require a majority vote in its national assembly and a referendum, the nation is “unlikely to be going to referendum anytime soon”.
“So, that is the state of play in relation to the CCJ. Of course, the British may sometime decide … that they don’t want us any longer on colonial premises. Then you will have no choice,” Gonsalves said.
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