BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is appealing to voters in Antigua and Barbuda to support the move towards replacing the London-based Privy Council as the island’s final court.
The people of Antigua and Barbuda will vote in a referendum on Nov. 6 on whether or not to replace the Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that was established in 2001 as the region’s final court.
“I am appealing to the people of Antigua and Barbuda to support the CCJ in the referendum. It is not about [Prime Minister] Gaston Browne. This does not add any lustre to Gaston Browne. What adds lustre is the creation of jobs, the bringing of investments, the making of people’s material lives better, health, education and all the rest of these things,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves, who was among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders who attended two important CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) related meetings here, said that no one would vote for Prime Minister Browne at the next election because he was able to get the CCJ as the island’s final court.
“Not a soul is going to vote for him for that. This is a matter of overall national interest and please show the region and show us in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that you are very progressive and help me in St. Vincent.
“You vote in Antigua and Barbuda for the CCJ, you vote in Grenada for the CCJ in the referendum, you help me in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, you help progressive people all over the region,” Gonsalves said.
While most of the Caribbean countries have signed on to the Original Jurisdiction of the CCJ, only Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana are signatories to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the Court that also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.
Gonsalves, one of the longest serving prime ministers in the region, said it was important for Caribbean people to adopt and amend the words of the late Barbados prime minister and National Hero, Errol Barrow that “we ought not to be found loitering on colonial premises after closing time.
“And it is closing time on colonial premises and they want us to go. What do we do? If we have any decency we will just go. We have any common sense we will just go. We have a good court. The people in the Privy Council are amazed that there is still this argument because they speak so loud in praise of the CCJ and international jurists the world over do the same thing.
“Let’s have confidence in ourselves and let us do the right thing,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was certain the parliamentary opposition in Antigua and Barbuda would support the “yes vote” in the referendum.
“I know you have progressive people in that party (United Progressive Party). Baldwin Spencer (former prime minister) is my friend. Harold Lovell (UPP) is a progressive Caribbean national and I expect them to go out strongly and support the CCJ.
“When they were in government they would have been supportive because they know it is the right thing. They would have been supportive and they are good men and I expect that good men will do the right and decent thing and I fully expect that and to come out and say this is not a Gaston Browne matter, this is not a Keith Mitchell (Grenada Prime Minister) or a Ralph Gonsalves matter “
Gonsalves brushed aside arguments that there was need to “fix” the lower courts in Antigua and Barbuda before the country could consider adopting the CCJ.
“I don’t understand that kind of a reasoning. Those are biases and prejudices dressed up as reasons,” he said, dismissing also arguments that the Privy Council has been able to give landmark decisions regarding the Caribbean.
“You get landmark decisions out of the CCJ, you get landmark decisions out of our Court of Appeal and the decisions are there in the law reports. But how many cases actually get to the Privy Council. That’s the point.
“You take a landmark case like the Shanique Myrie case. If the Privy Council had done that they would say it is a landmark case but it is our Caribbean Court of Justice that did it,” he said.
In 2013, the CCJ ruled that Barbados had breached the right of the Jamaican national when she sought entry into the country in 2011.
Myrie, who had been granted leave by the CCJ to file the action, alleged that when she travelled to Barbados on March 14, 2011 she was discriminated against because of her nationality, subjected to a body cavity search, detained overnight in a cell and deported to Jamaica the following day.
Myrie also claimed that she was subjected to derogatory remarks by a Barbadian immigration officer and asked the CCJ to determine the minimum standard of treatment applicable to CARICOM citizens moving around the region.
Gonsalves also brushed aside the often-repeated arguments regarding the independence of the CCJ saying that the “fears are not justified.
“It is said that the Privy Council will give you better justice but where is that evidence,” Gonsalves asked.