Justice Adrian Saunders, president of the Caribbean Court of Justice. (iWN file photo)

The newly installed President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Justice Adrian Saunders, says that replacing the London-based Privy Council with his court is about social equality for CARICOM nationals.

He cited statistics to show that the Privy Council, which remains the highest court for several CARICOM nations, has upheld most non-death penalty decisions of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

Speaking on Friday at the special sitting of the CCJ in his home country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which is not a member of the court, Saunders said that most losing litigants tend to sing songs of woe about the court before which they lost.

“But, what is the reality?” he said, adding that the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal is, per capita, one of the busiest courts of appeal in the region.

In SVG, that court sits three times a year, handling about 60 cases each year, he said, noting that over the last 30 years, the court would have handled about 1,800 cases.

Of those, only 21 were appealed further to the Privy Council.

“Of these 21 Vincentian appeals, nine of them were death penalty appeals. So if we set aside those death penalty appeals, all significantly funded by international human rights bodies, … only 12 Vincentian litigants were able to access the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council over the last 30 years; 12 out of at least 1,800,” Saunders said.

“How is it that only 12 litigants who were dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal chose to appeal the decision?

“The main reason is the massive cost involved in accessing a court sited in London.

“The cold reality is that unless you commit murder, when the state and or human rights bodies are likely to provide you with legal aid, an ordinary litigant who wishes to appeal a judgement of the court of appeal is simply unable to access further justice. Only the state or the well off can do so. And the statistics bear this out,” Saunders said.

He said that of the 12 non-death penalty cases that reached the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal was reversed four times.

“The other eight times, the Privy Council endorsed the decision of the Court of Appeal. Now, this is an extraordinarily approval ratio. It is far higher than the similar ratio of UK Supreme Court judgements in relation to the court of Appeal of England. And guess what? It is the judges of the Court of Appeal in England who ultimately become judges of the U.K. Supreme Court,” Saunders said.

“I don’t want to say anymore on this issue, except to say that it is my fervent hope that in the months ahead, we in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will reflect on this issue of the continued retention of the British Privy Council to hear our final appeals.

“It is my further hope that as we do so, that light will prevail over heat, that fact will prevail over sentiment and that sober reality will prevail over partisanship. As far as I am concerned, what is at stake here is not a political question, it is not a constitutional diadem; it is a social issue of profound importance. This is a matter that has to do with social equality.

“One can put any spin one wishes on it, at the end of the day, we must see it for what it is. It is an issue of affording to the ordinary man and woman the same level of access to the highest level of justice as is currently enjoyed by those who are well off. I say no more on this.” Saunders said.

Saunders said that it is only natural that Caribbean nationals should  have the final say in the interpretation of the laws passed by their parliaments.

“And ambitious political activists can aspire to be prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But a serious, dedicated judge, cannot today aspire to be a member of her apex court, because that is a role we have chosen to reserve for British judges,” he said.

In a 2009 referendum, the Vincentian electorate rejected proposed changes to the nation’s constitution, which included replacing the Privy Council with the CCJ.

Prime Minster Ralph Gonsalves has said that an advisory opinion of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals has indicated that a referendum is not needed to make a change.

Rather, the government would have to secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ.

Gonsalves said at Friday’s event that he would introduce such a law if the opposition would support it.

The main opposition New Democratic Party, which holds seven of the 15 seats in parliament, is pro-Privy Council.

6 replies on “Switching to CCJ is about ‘social equality’ — Justice Saunders”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    It is shameful for the Chief Justice to debase his position by engaging in political lobbying in this manner, reason enough to reject his appeal for us to join the CCJ.

    No British justice of the Privy Council would attempt to influence politics in Great Britain in such an unseemly and self serving manner.

    Only in the Caribbean do our courts try, directly or indirectly, try to influence political decision making, a realm that belongs exclusively to the people and their elected representatives based on the principle of a separation of powers between the judiciary and the polity.

  2. What a load of bull #&%# people in trying to get out of this kangaroo court and your encouraging SVG to join this court humm .

  3. C. ben-David says:

    1. Achieving independence was also about social equality — an empty promise never realized- which has only driven us under the foot of Cuba, Venezuela and other tyrannical regimes.

    2. The Chief Justice is so out of touch or so devious that he wants us to believe that poor people could ever afford to appeal a civil or criminal case before the CCJ.

  4. Rawlston Pompey says:

    COLONIAL LEGACY

    None shall be ‘…fooled by sentimentality.’

    Though intellectuals speak to full independence and severing colonial ties,
    the Eastern Caribbean currency (Notes/Coins) still portrays two symbols of
    ‘…Colonialism and Slavery.’

    There is ‘…Her Majesty’s Bust’ and a ‘…Ship’ that reminds of ferried slaves
    from the African Continent to the region.

    There could be no substantiated debates that the role being played by the
    Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) ‘…was ever reserved by regional people.’

    Not sure why the esteemed Justice Adrian Saunders should say
    ‘…that is a role we have chosen to reserve for British Judges.’

    The ‘…JCPC’s role is a ‘…Colonial Legacy ‘…conditionally imposed
    upon regional countries’ that sought and gained political independence.

    Though there have been significant changes, regional Courts still practice the
    same ‘…British derivative jurisprudence (Common law).’

    Interestingly, the well-learned Justice had been (i) …trained in British
    Jurisprudence; (ii) …called to, and practiced at the Bar in it;
    (iii) …elevated to the judgeship and appellate positions in it; and though
    an indigenous judicial institution (CCJ), (iv) …elevated to the presidency.’

    Wisely left to the ‘…reflection of the people.’

  5. Rawlston Pompey says:

    ADVISORY OPINION!

    Most regional Constitutions speak to a ‘…Supreme Law’ [ANU: Section 2:
    SVG: Section 101].

    Most contained provisions to effect ‘…alterations to any part of the Constitution
    or of the Supreme Court Order’ [ANU: Section 47: SVG: Section 38].

    Most speak to an overwhelming support of a ‘…two-thirds majority of the
    Members of the House of Representatives.’

    As with national elections, most speak to the people’s involvement through a
    ‘…Referendum.’

    Those proffering such opinion may have ‘… Gravely Misguided’ themselves.

    Those who have so opined, as to have misguided policy-makers, may be
    seen as ‘…opinionatedly reckless.’

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