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By C. ben-David

Today the Queen, who embodied colonialism, still commands our allegiance and the Privy Council remains our final court of arbitration.

Britain no longer exercises the control it once did, but many of the symbols and structures remain, although bastardised” (Dr. Adrian Fraser, Point of View, Searchlight Newspaper, September 26, 2018).


It is a compromise of sovereignty to leave … decision[s] to a court [Judicial Committee of the Privy Council], which is part of the former colonial hierarchy, a court in the appointment of whose members we have no say” (Isaac Hyatali, Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago, 1972-1983).

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These high-sounding pro-sovereignty sentiments might have some resonance had they not been uttered by Sir Isaac Hyatali, a man who received a knighthood from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning heir to all the allegedly demeaning and oppressive colonial baggage his country inherited, one year after he became Chief Justice of the highest court in Trinidad and Tobago.

Sir Isaac is only one of many examples of British colonial honours eagerly sought and pompously displayed by many supposedly — and hypocritically — anti-colonial Caribbean elites, including the top members of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) it is meant to replace.

This colonial honour system has a long history. Decades before the establishment of the CCJ, many Caribbean heads of government gladly and proudly accepted knighthoods from their royal sovereign while mightily and hypocritically lobbying for independence from Great Britain. These included: Sir Eric Gairy (Grenada); Sir Eric Williams (Trinidad/Tobago); Sir Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica); Sir Grantley Adams (Barbados); Sir Erskine Sandiford (Barbados); and Sir Ronald Symonette (Bahamas).

Since achieving independence, many Caribbean countries have continued to nominate their citizens, nearly all them politicians or ceremonial heads of state, for royal honours. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), for example, five of the six governors general and one of four prime ministers since 1979 were awarded knighthoods. Most recently, the current Prime Minister of SVG, Ralph Gonsalves, a man who in 2009 unsuccessfully tried to transform his nation from a constitutional monarchy into a republic with a president as head of state, thereby forever ending the granting of foreign titles, nevertheless secured knighthoods for two of his closest political allies.

Meanwhile, several Commonwealth of Nations countries that were former colonies of Great Britain have either long abolished the acceptance of such debased relics of colonialism or prohibited their public recognition. For example, Canada which obtained independence in 1867 began annulling the awarding of knighthoods in 1917, completing the process in 1935.

The last Canadian Prime Minister to be knighted was Sir Robin Borden (1915); by way of comparison, in 1985 SVG’s Sir James Mitchell was named to the larger British Privy Council from which its judicial committee Law Lords are selected, and secured an allegedly self-nominated knighthood 10 years later as the latest Caribbean Prime Minister to be so honoured.

To paraphrase Adrian Saunders the current (and third) President of the CCJ:

The disestablishment of honorary British titles is a very important milestone in the orderly de-linking from imperial and colonial control. It is the next logical step in the de-colonisation process and until it is taken, we cannot be said to have completely rid ourselves of vestiges of our colonial experience.

Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s pompously titled “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States and to the Organization of American States,” was knighted by the Queen in 2002, a year after the founding of the CCJ, seemingly indifferent to the contradiction between this honour and his relentless decolonization efforts, especially his strident appeals for the majority CARICOM holdouts to jump aboard the tiny and rickety CCJ bandwagon.

Sir Ronald, a man who parades his knighthood — “A crucial fixture of the architecture of racism and oppression in British colonies,” if there ever was one – as if it were actually a badge of honour rather than a retrograde colonial affectation, has just implied that contemporary British laws and British courts, including the JCPC, are hardly different from the ancestral courts that, “… upheld and maintained slavery as legal, morally acceptable, and wholly justifiable.”

Not only is it historically, logically, and morally inaccurate to infer that the British courts of 1818 were no different than those of 2018, it is a racial slur for a hyper-privileged white member of the Caribbean elite to say that those West Indian people, most of them the black descendants of slaves, are guilty of “self-contempt” for failing to support a court they do not trust, do not want, and do not need. If anything, this is just another illustration of the chronic elite contempt for the masses.

More generally, how can Sir Ronald give unquestioning support to a “bastardized” (to use historian Dr. Fraser’s fitting term in the opening quote) regional court whose entire substructure is British in origin, form, and function. The CCJ is not a home-grown court in any sense of the term. It is simply at the apex of a diluted caricature of a wworld-renownedlegal system that we inherited holus-bolus from our former colonial masters.

Along with this, we have also inherited and continue to cherish, even at the highest ranks of CCJ, a system of honorary rewards that will never be willingly relinquished along with the sense of pipsqueak-island social inferiority the zeal to possess them exemplifies. Indeed, the regnant British colonial mindset among the Caribbean political class is no better seen than in the past and present composition of the CCJ.

Michael de la Bastide, the first President of the CCJ gladly accepted his first British honour, Queen’s Counsel, in 1975. “He was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 27 July 2004 and as President of the Caribbean Court of Justice on 18 August 2004.”

The Second President of the CCJ, Sir Dennis Byron, “… was knighted in 2000 and appointed a member of the Privy Council in 2004.” In September 2011, Sir Dennis was appointed President of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

What we have, then, is a blatant contradiction between wishing to cling to the Privy Council for personal honour and prestige while vigorously lobbying Sir Ronald’s benighted masses to abandon the Privy Council so they can, in the words of Sir Dennis, “… com­plete their in­de­pen­dence and sov­er­eign­ty by claim­ing the rights to completely man­age our ju­di­cial af­fairs.”

The legitimacy of the CCJ, the product of a ragtag “Caribbean civilization,” is sure to be further watered down should Adrian Saunders be honoured in the same way by our omnipresent British benefactors.

As if this were not enough, the supposedly anti-colonial seven-member CCJ has been manned, since its first deliberations in 2005, by two old white European men (David Hayton, an Englishman, and Jacob Wit, a Netherlander), both born and bred in the heartland of our colonial oppression, testimony to both our hypocritical colonial mentality and an acknowledged lack of trustworthy and/or competent legal talent among the extant CARICOM judiciary.

But these considerations still leaves unanswered the question of why our elites could be so enamoured of anachronistic British honours while simultaneously eager to throw the respected apex of British jurisprudence into the dustbin of history. This kind of question was also of concern to our former British masters which was why they made our constitutions so difficult to amend, an assertion I address in my next essay.


This is the third in a series of essays on Caribbean constitutional reform, with special reference to the Caribbean Court of Justice. The articles are all listed here.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

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].

9 replies on “The hypocritical colonial mentality of the CCJ”

  1. Rawlston Pompey says:


    A fine commentary with rather flowery language, such as ‘…Self-contempt’ and
    ‘…Chronic elite contempt for the masses; …Enamored of anachronisticBritish honors.’

    Seems the writer had been visiting the ‘…Antigua News Room’ website where Sir
    Ron makes regular contributions [Judging the CCJ: September, 14, 2018].

    He might not be too amused with the references the writer has made of him.

    Not sure, the people referred to, their writings or comments amount to ‘…contempt,’
    but seems more like (a) …an attempt to persuade regional people to dispense with
    another lingering vestige of colonialism; and

    (b) …Giving the impression that the London Judicial Committee of the Privy
    Counsel (JCPC),’ is retarding revolutionary strides to the region’s jurisprudential
    development, particularly the indigenous judicial institution called the ‘…Caribbean
    Court of Justice (CCJ).’

    Regional people, ‘…living at the edge of poverty’ could hardly retain an attorney to
    represent them at the Magistrate’s Court, let alone the Itinerant Eastern Caribbean
    Supreme Court (ECSC), the ‘CCJ’ or the ‘JCPC.’

    Even so, in a Referendum, they will be in the majority. Moreover, they must know
    what they will be voting for.

  2. I presume you would like a feedback – so here is one.

    I disagree with your premise – that it is hypocritical to want to eliminate the Privy Council as a relic of colonialism while simultaneously while holding onto to the relics of the colonial past.

    It is perfectly rational to want to have all the power the Privy Council possesses as the apex of the court system while recognizing as you point out quite usefully that the British Court in 1818 is not the same British Court in 2018. One of the problems in your argument is that you conflate the trappings of the colonial past with the substance of colonialism. Colonialism is quite simply the exercise of power by foreigners over a native population. Hence, when supporters of the CCJ are asking that the CCJ becomes the Caribbean highest court of appeal they are really asking that this power should reside within the Caribbean. Their view is that local governance is to be preferred to distant governance.

    You fall into the discursive maze they create for themselves when you expand their anti colonial language to mean that they seek to abandon the colonial heritage in its entirety. For that is actually impossible. All of the Caribbean states are successor states to the former colonial masters. And with the exception of Cuba, their constitutional framework is founded upon the framework of the colonial masters. The language we speak is the language of the colonial masters. Caribbean states and Caribbean people cannot step out of history to some imagined future, or return to some imagined past.

    We live in the present – and that present is the consequence of a particular set of historical processes deeply entwined with European colonialism. Obviously some very bad things came with that – slavery. That legacy cannot be wished away – or as Bob Marley said so sweetly, “two thousand years of history cannot be wiped away so easily.” Colonialism’s greatest flaw was its exploitation of native peoples. But the colonialists also had assets – political, economic, judicial, and intellectual systems that brought some very good things to the colonial powers. These have now become the inheritance of the descendants of the former enslaved and colonized peoples.

    There is no logic in giving up this inheritance. However, here is clear value to local elites – intellectuals and others – to seek every element of power which the colonial state once monopolized. All that does is to affirm that there are aspects of the colonial legacy which would always be with us.

    There is nothing hypocritical in that – just confusion in appropriately distinguishing between the atrocities of colonial rule, and the elements of the colonial legacy which we would forever embrace.

  3. Actually, the term “self contempt” was used by Sir Ronald (which is why I put it in quotation marks) which I threw back in his lily white face as being his own racist contempt for the Black masses.

  4. Christopher A Joseph says:

    Get your “facts” right sir, Eric Eustace Williams earned his doctorate, he was never knighted nor sought it

  5. I sometimes disagree with C Ben David writings but I think this is a masterpiece. Very factual and informative in many ways. Our inability to develop and transform the Caribbean is stymied by our inability to rid ourselves of our colonial ties.

    In fact, neocolonialism is on the increase throughout the Caribbean. It is quite evident in the tourist and real estate sector. Racism and the mistreatment of colored people by whites in the tourism sector in the Caribbean is very worrying. It seems that the White driven Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Organization never sees this as a matter to be discussed.

    1. I appreciate your reference to “very factual,” an attribute too many essays on this site lack because being “very factual” involves a lot of tedious searching for accurate and verfiable data.

      But this is well worth the effort because it supports the credibilty of the analysis, something again lacking in too many posts on this and related sites whose writers mindlessly expect their bombastic rhetoric to convince anyone other the most ignorant reader that they have anything credible to say.

  6. The
    US,Australia, Ireland,countries of Africa, and India all came out of Brittain’s power and or tutlage;who have also exercise their right for have their own high courts without question; and whom we’ve revered.why is the Caribbean lagging behind ?

    1. As I and others have repeatedly said, this has nothing to do with any colonial mentality. We simply don’t trust our court system. And for good reason.

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