By Lavern King
The debate about St. Vincent and the Grenadines abandoning the UK-based Privy Council to embrace the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final appellate court, is once more being vigorously promoted among the Vincentian populace.
Indeed many Vincentians are still wondering what all this “fuss” is about. There is truly a disconnect between the “bright boys” and the ordinary man on this very important issue.
Some general information:
During our colonial past, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was established as St. Vincent’s final court of appeal. With the end of colonialism, several former British colonies established their own final appellate court. The CCJ, established in 2005, is the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
There are numerous pros and cons that one may find for either of the debate on the merits and demerits of each courts: access to justice, guarantee of fair judgement without undue influence, costs for litigation, and so on.
Was the CCJ rejected for purely political reasons?
In 2009, the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) brought a referendum to the people of SVG on the SVG Constitution Act 2009. One of the changes that were proposed then was to get rid of the Privy Council as our final appellate court. The Vincentian masses rejected that notion as part of a package of changes they found unacceptable. The CCJ, though not explicitly identified as the alternative, was rejected because the ULP failed to properly sensitise the masses about exactly what changes were coming and the implications of such. It also failed because the people did not, then, and still do not, now, trust the ULP, and they also lacked confidence in the proposed changes. Many concerns were raised during the so-called “consultations” but they were never seriously taken into account.
Any serious government that is truly interested in the development of the people will genuinely consult with the people, then together, devise possible amendments with the nation’s best interest at heart.
Recent developments in the CCJ- Privy Council Saga
A Vincentian, Justice Adrian Saunders, was recently appointed president of the CCJ. Surely, this is great and stirs national pride in all of us. This, however, cannot be the most compelling reason why SVG should expeditiously adopt the CCJ. Resorting to this ploy amounts to nothing more than a cop-out on the part of a government that does not want to facilitate and engage in authentic national dialogue on the issue. Added to this, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda are exploring moving to the CCJ as their final appellate court. To this end, both countries are going the route of a referendum. Suddenly, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has interest in moving to the CCJ, yet he does not want to be the one to bring it to the House of Parliament. Why is this desire so sudden? It is because Dr. Gonsalves is feeling left out regionally? Is it to boost his ego? Is it so that he can boast that he was the one who did it? Is this rush for him to fulfil another of his self-serving obsessions? If not, why not go
through the same route that regional counterparts are using? Why not use a referendum? Is he afraid of the polls? Why not consult the people? Not consulting people shows blatant disregard for their views on their Constitution. Not consulting people shows that the ULP believes that power belongs to political figureheads only, and that the input of the taxpayers and the electorate of our country are irrelevant.
Why use the route of a referendum?
Simply put, a referendum is the purest form of democracy and it allows the widest cross-section of the population to have an input in a decision, which ultimately affects us all. Such a decision should not be left only to the parliamentarians. We can acknowledge that those members of the House of Parliament are the representatives of the people, but we are not aware that those members have consulted with their constituents.
It is clear that Gonsalves is NOT serious and does not have the people at heart. The ULP needs to stop being lazy and stop looking for a cop-out by suggesting that Opposition Leader Godwin Friday should bring the bill. I charge them rather to show some regard for the people of SVG and consult them. Do like Antigua and Grenada and take it to the people, if you dare!
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The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].