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

TORONTO — President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders, a Vincentian, says he had hoped that his elevation to that post would have united his nation in support of the court at the nation’s highest judicial authority.

He further told an event held in Toronto last Saturday to mark the 39th anniversary of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ independence from Britain that he is often embarrassed to have to explain to his colleagues from around the world, the CARICOM countries’ opposition to the court.

“I had hoped that with my elevation to the presidency of the CCJ, I would be able to get all parties in SVG to put aside their political differences and to embrace the court in its appellate jurisdiction,” Saunders said.

Saunders was the featured speaker at the event, organised by the SVG Organisation of Toronto, and spoke on the topic “Remembering Our Past – Focussing On Our Future”.

The Ralph Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party, reversing a position held before it came to office in March 2001, has lined up in support of the CCJ to replace the London-based Privy Council as SVG’s highest court.

In July, the prime minister said that the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court gave an opinion that two-thirds majority support of lawmakers, rather than a referendum is needed to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ.

Gonsalves also said he is willing to bring such a law to Parliament but would only do so if he has opposition support.

However, the main opposition New Democratic Party, led by Godwin Friday, who, like Gonsalves, is a lawyer, has made it clear that it would not support a move to the CCJ.

In comments earlier this year, Friday said that the electorate rejected such a move when given a choice in a referendum in 2009, adding that Parliament should respect voters’ choices.

He, however, said that if another referendum is held on the issue, his party would rally its supporters in an attempt to vote it down.

Saunders said: “If we are to advance as a people, politics and political tussles are important for a healthy democracy. But there are eternal core human values that are overarching. Truth, compassion, cooperation, caring, courtesy, empathy, hard honest labour … These are values Opposition and Government alike and indeed, all the people must promote,” he said, according to the transcript sent to the media.

He, however, said there is another value that is paramount and is vital for the citizens of the Caribbean “with our fractured experiences of slavery and colonialism.

“That other value is self-belief: a clear sense of ourselves. An understanding of our worth as human beings; an appreciation that we are not inferior to anyone and that we have the capacity to forge our own destiny,” he said.

The jurist said his heart soars when he hears of Vincentians who excel regionally or internationally.

“Because that becomes for me a re-affirmation of our worth, our capacity,” he said, adding that no one shrieked for joy louder than he did when West Indies cricketer Obed McCoy, a Vincentian, bowled out Indian cricketer MS Dhoni last week.

“It is, therefore, for me, a source of profound disappointment, that so many people in the region, including Vincentians who I assumed would know better, contrive to find excuse upon excuse to justify the anomaly that, after 40 years of political independence, we are content to have our laws ultimately interpreted and applied by a British institution, staffed with British judges all of whom reside in Britain. History will not be kind to those who argue that such a situation should continue.”

Saunders said this is no different than a man today wanting SVG to return to Associated Statehood status, or wanting to write O-Level exams from Cambridge instead of the Caribbean Examinations Council.

“For me, it is like choosing Major Leith over Chatoyer,” Saunders said, contrasting the Scottish soldier who served in the British Army, to SVG’s sole National Hero, who led a years-long guerrilla war in the 18th Century against European attempts to colonise SVG.

Saunders noted that over 15 years ago, CARICOM established its own final court — the CCJ — and spent US$100 million to guarantee the court’s sustainability.

“… the Court has successfully been operating for well over 10 years serving the needs of Barbados, Guyana, Belize and lately, Dominica; and some people still wish to cling to the Privy Council?” he said, mentioning the CARICOM nations that have replaced the Privy Council with the CCJ as their final appellate court.

“If Chatoyer, who put his life on the line, were alive today just imagine, what would he think of this?” Saunders said.

Saunders that when he tries to explain to his colleagues from Asia, Africa and Latin America — as he is “sometimes obliged to do at judicial colloquia” — the “anomaly” of CARICOM nations not having replaced the Privy Council with the CCJ, “it ceases to be an anomaly.

“In the face of the disbelief expressed by my colleagues, it becomes an embarrassment because it is linked directly to our perception of ourselves and the level of confidence we have in our capacity to take full responsibility for our own governance.”

Saunders said he addressed a graduating class at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus in Barbados one week earlier and told them that he remained confident.

“Confident that the ill-informed would become better informed. That the sceptical would become convinced. I look to the future and I remain confident that, as is the case with, for example, The Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Examinations Council, and The University of the West Indies (to name just a few), the time will come when the CCJ also will be recognised as another of those Caribbean institutions whose vital contribution to the region can almost be taken for granted,” Saunders said.

“As we focus on the future, it is essential that we appreciate that we can and must rely on ourselves to forge our own destiny. We can and must build a stronger St Vincent and the Grenadines and an equally strong Caribbean Community,” he said.

Two CARICOM members, Grenada and the twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, will hold referenda on Nov. 6 to decide whether to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ as their highest court.

11 replies on “Sustained support for Privy Council often embarrasses CCJ head”

  1. I have already commented on Saunders’ position and will continue to do so in several remaining CCJ essays, but must state here that were Chatoyer alive today, we would all be not only speaking French but be part and parcel of the French Republic — not an independent nation — as are all the French-speaking Caribbean territories except Hait, the poorest country in the Western Hemiphere, which would have also been our destiny had we subsequently joined Chatoyer to become an independent country.

    These elites all think they know what is best for us when what they preach is only best for them.

    A big country like Canada, where he spoke, retained the Privy Council for 82 years after it achieved independence in 1867. Pipsqueak SVG has only been independent for 39 years (a big mistake if you ask me because we will never have the means to be self sufficient).

    If Saunders is so “embarrassed” to lead a court nobody in their right mind wants as our final court of appeal, he has the choice of resigning.

  2. My good old friend sorry to take issue with you I too will feel gratifying if all Caribbean Countries did recognize CCJ. You had great opportunity to discuss pro and cons with our audiences but you fail, was this by over sight or not want tell them the truth why they rejected the CCJ.
    So let me tell them .
    Many people feel that CCJ is political allign, Over reaching, deny truth justice for Oppostion parties, until recently as they no handle was on the wall in Barbados and others.

    First justice must be fair to all and the laws must applied to Head and foot equally. So we may consider that body.

  3. My problem with Judge Adrian SAUNDERS is that he was president of the United People’s Movement (UPM) candidate, he and Ralph Gonsalves are old friends and political colleagues. Ralph was leader of that party in 1979 United People’s Movement, which then contested elections for the first time.

    [The MNU party was a Marxist led party] The United People’s Movement was a political party in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It first contested national elections in 1979, when it received 13.6% of the vote, but failed to win a seat.
    Ref: Nohlen, D (2005) Elections in the Americas: A data handbook, Volume I, pp603-604 ISBN 978-0-19-928357-6
    Shortly before the 1984 elections several members left to form the Movement for National Unity after a majority of UPM members refused to renounce the [Marxist] policies of Fidel Castro.
    Ref: Nohlen, p596
    As a result, the party’s vote share fell to 3.2% and it remained seatless. In 1989 it received just 468 votes and again failed to win a seat. It did not contest any further elections.
    Ref: Nohlen, p601

    He and Ralph Gonsalves have been friends for donkeys years.

    1. State your “problem” more succintly, sir. Do you fear that if the Prime Minister ever had to appear before Judge Saunders’ CCJ, he would get favourable treatment?

      Don’t be shy, tell is what you believe.

  4. I am still stuck on the argument that SVG should consider or join the CCJ because the President of the Court is now a Vincentian!!! Really???????

    Sorry, but I am not in favor of the move to the CCJ for obvious reasons. Legally, I am not convince that it will be any better than the Privy Council. Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of the PC but the CCJ is not an alternative.

    This whole argument is akin to the NDP proponents who say give them a chance merely because the ULP already had 17 years……

    Sometimes, one prefers to stick to the evil they already know!

  5. Boy, you could talk. It is simple, we are an infantile and fragile democracy we can’t just decide to tempt faith just because you say so. And the nation already has a serious headache in the form of Ralf Gonsalves, your friend, who has managed to stay in charge despite inflicting a lot of pain on the lives of the people.(our people see immigration as the only way) People don’t have money to spend.

  6. Harry Marriott says:

    A referendum was held and the people gave their view, rightly in my opinion. End of.

    They know that the Privy Council will give better protection because it is a) more experienced b) more senior and c) more importantly 100% independent.

    One of the huge advantages of the Privy Council is that it takes into account all the vast amount of litigation and other matters which to pass through all the lower courts throughout the U.K. St Vincent and the Grenadines is able to take advantage of this by being aligned with English law, without having to reinvent the wheel every time.

    And no one is doubting be quality of its lawmaking are they? On the contrary, why is it that most international businesses specifically require legal agreements to be subject to English law? The fact that the business might be in Timbuktu Is irrelevant, they are effectively making use of the best service.

    We are a small country. Fact. As a small country why not take advantage of a much larger country’s resources on this most vital of issues, Particularly when it is in our interest to do so?

    And no one yet has advocated that the Privy Council have ever given a decision which might be in conflict with the CCJ or with the wishes or the well-being of Vincentians so why on earth change it? I am not sure they the same cannot be said the other way around…!

    It shows much less insecurity and inferiority not to get rid of the Privy Council, than to do so, in my humble opinion.

  7. Pure hogwash too much political affiliation I hope Grenada and Antigua reject this kangaroo court and I’m hoping Barbados will soon call a referendum and leave and that’s the end of this kangaroo court.

  8. Well said my people… I hope that both Ralph and Saunders read IWNews comments even if they keep it a secret, otherwise Lord help us…

  9. It is ‘PROFOUND’ to read of President (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders’ belief in the future of our people, a hope that by ‘DESTINY’ we will someday fine ourselves clarity to the importance of self-governance.

    ‘PROFOUND’ as was the said thoughts which ignited the name of my book, the disappointment I encountered of a people. My people who naively; possibly unconsciously due to the “fractured experiences of slavery and colonialism” provoked and inspired my confident to that of my continuity in “Standing Tall in Echoes of Destiny.”
    Still like you and Justice Adrian Saunders; my “heart soars when I hear of Vincentians who excel regionally or internationally”>>>> “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

  10. RR is Kangaroo a coded word for nasty old Marxist -Leninist’s

    Harry Marriot, the fat stinker wants us to embrace a system which he can control as he controls everything else police judiciary, everything.

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