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PM willing to pass law to make CCJ SVG’’s final court

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he is willing to bring to Parliament a law to replace the London-based Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ highest court.

Gonsalves said Friday that he is willing to do this although voters rejected the CCJ, among other proposed changes to the nation’s constitution, in a referendum a decade ago.

He made the statement at the same chambers where, on June 28, during a meeting of Parliament, he cited voters’ referendum decision in defence of his government’s continued refusal to pass integrity legislation, which had been a main plank of the campaign that brought his government to office in March 2001.

The prime minister told Friday’s special sitting of the CCJ in Kingstown that he would bring such a law only if the parliamentary opposition commits to support it.

We have to answer the political question why do we do it alone in the house, we having gone to a referendum. Well, we can simply say that we are all at one on it and that the referendum didn’t turn on that question.

“And if both of us say so, my lord, we have nothing to lose… Let’s fight about other things next time around, not this one. I am making this plea…. Let us strive for the seemingly impossible… Let us show favour to our son, Justice Saunders, and the gods will smile upon us…”

He was speaking at the first sitting in SVG of the 13-year-old Trinidad-based court.

The sitting was held to mark the accession of Vincentian jurist, Justice Adrian Saunders as the court’s third president.

Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana have replaced the Privy Council with the CCJ as their court of last resort for criminal and civil matters.

“I think the greatest tribute we can pay to Justice Saunders is for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to become the next member of the CCJ in its final appellate jurisdiction,” Gonsalves, a lawyer, said to applause.

“We tried our hand at it in a referendum in November 2009. The people spoke and they rejected the constitutional changes. There were many changes so I can’t be sure that the people didn’t want to have the CCJ. Perhaps they preferred having her majesty to continue as head of state, rather than a home-grown president — because there were many, many changes.”

The prime minister, who is also Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, said that his government had always been under the impression, until the Attorney General’s Reference advisory opinion from the Court of Appeal, in St. Lucia, that SVG had to go to a referendum to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ.

He said that to make such a change, his government would need two-thirds support in the Parliament.

“The government doesn’t have a two-third majority. But, if the opposition — and the Leader of the opposition is here; he is not speaking today, he is not on the programme and I don’t want to ambush him. I have never done that. At least, not intentionally, that if they are of the mind to join the government in passing a constitutional amendment to have the CCJ, I will find time on the parliamentary agenda to do it very, very swiftly. So I want to give that assurance to all those are gathered here and to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

He said his experience has been that those who fear the loss of power tend to lose it swiftly.

“So I am not fearful of going to the Parliament, if the opposition — we can have a free vote, and all of us, see whether we have a majority.”

Gonsalves told the judges at the bench during the ceremonial sitting that he can’t wrap his head around the idea that Caribbean people can pass laws, interpret them up to the level of the court of appeal, “but we need some other persons from another civilisation, presumably better?

“Well, where is that presumption? If they are better, I shouldn’t be the prime minister. We should have a governor general running St. Vincent and the Grenadines. For my part, I have no desire to linger, to loiter on colonial premises beyond closing time.”

Gonsalves said that the CCJ is the only supranational institution that can command obedience within the architecture of the CARICOM institutions.

He said that great care was taken to ensure that the financing of the court is independent of politicians and that a trust fund was set up and is independently managed.

“Of course, the heads of governments receive the reports,” he said, adding that there are other courts in the western hemisphere and Europe, for example the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court, where they depend on individual funding every year.

He also responded to fears of political interference in a regional court such as the CCJ.

“This idea that politicians would take up the telephone and call a judge is absolute rubbish. First of all, I don’t know any politician who is foolish enough to do that, but no judge would listen to them.”

Gonsalves, who came to office in March 2001, said he hasn’t spoken to a judge or magistrate about any decision, adding that as far as he is aware, none of his predecessors in SVG has done so.

“Where does this inferiority come from? Where does this fear come from?”

On the June 28 meeting of the national assembly, Member of Parliament for East Kingstown, Arnhim Eustace, asked Gonsalves if his government was “contemplating the establishment of integrity legislation as in the case of so many other countries to monitor the assets and liabilities of members of parliament”.

As had often been the case, Gonsalves took advantage of the opportunity to bash the main opposition New Democratic Party, which Eustace headed from October 2000 to November 2017, over its 2009 campaign against proposed changes to the nation’s constitution.

When the proposed changes were put to a vote in a referendum, they were overwhelmingly rejected in a vote that political observers say was actually a referendum of the Gonsalves’ government, one year before he called general elections.

Comments (6)

  1. Why do these people keep beating a dead horse when at least one of the countries that have signed on to the CCJ is already regretting their decision to do so?

    Why is the Comrade falsely claiming that a two-thirds majority in parliament is enough when Grenada where the government has won all the seats is nevertheless holding a referendum on the CCJ issue it is bound to lose?

    It is only the insecure elites who want to ditch the impartial law lords of the Privy Council for their friends in the CCJ. The ordinary people are quite content with the current state of affairs.

    To use another analogy, let sleeping dogs lie.

  2. ” The gods will smile upon us” Really? I thought Ralph believed in one God. Anyway, I don’t expect anything better from the biggest hypocrite of the twenty first century, next to Donald Trump of course.

  3. He says he loves the people. with the Cyber Crime law, sharp raise in taxes and many of his other actions and now this, it is more of a demonstration that he loves power, money, and priveledge, but he seems to have very little concern for the people except about a year before election time.

  4. What these one-side-minded politicians failed to acknowledge, or still want to fool the Vincentian public with their gimmicks, is that while the failed proposed referendum had in it some good changes for the country, it has as equally proposed changes that were bad for the country as well. Therefore, it was rejected by the citizenry based on the things that were not good, simple! So now don’t come back and use only part of what was included in the failed referendum to make it sounds like the entire referendum was good for the entire country, it was not! Is there really any integrity in politics?

  5. No kangaroo court for SVG very soon Barbados will have to hold a referendum on this ccj and trust me the people will leave and that would be The END .

  6. Please, Prime Minister, introduce a constitutional amendment in the House of Parliament or hold a referendum on an issue 90 percent of us would agree with, namely, that no higher court can overule the death penalty for crimes like murder in our country.

    But we all know that you would never do such a thing because as a New Age leftist you are totally opposed to the death penalty for any and all crimes, as heinous as they might be.

    If a mass murderer who is totally sane and rational, God forbid, murdered every member of your own family, you would still oppose the death penalty based on your belief that no civilized people have the right to wifully take the life of another person except as personal self defense when their life is threatened or if the country is in a collective state of warfare against a foe hell bend on its takeover or extermination.

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