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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)

By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” April 26, 2024)

I recently read a letter published in the Feb. 22, 2024 issue of the Jamaica Gleaner. I am publishing it in its entirety because of the truth, force, and power of its contents

“The recent Privy Council hearing of Jamaica’s dancehall artiste Adidja Palmer’s (Vybz Kartel) appeal against his conviction has reignited a long-standing debate: Should Jamaica continue to recognise the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final court of appeal? This submission argues that the recent hearing of the Privy Council appeal, which was live-streamed, is evidence that the time has come for Jamaica to affirm its sovereignty and judicial independence by withdrawing from the UK-based vestige of colonialism.

“The live-streaming of this appeal, for which many of us have been profoundly grateful, has not only situated Jamaica’s justice system under the global spotlight but also underscored the argument that the Privy Council does not possess any superior legal intellect absent from Jamaica’s own appellate bench. As the legal arguments and submissions unfolded (from both sides), the global audience watched and listened attentively to the inquiries made by the Law Lords and Lady.

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“This observation highlighted the fact that there is no unique wisdom or insight offered by the Privy Council that could not have been equally matched by the Caribbean Court of Justice. Continuing to rely on the Privy Council as Jamaica’s final court of appeal is incongruent with Jamaica’s status as a truly independent nation. I submit that this continued reliance on the Privy Council is a relic of colonialism that continues to dilute Jamaica’s independence and, by extension, its judicial and intellectual sovereignty. The time has come for us as a region to embrace our judicial wisdom and decisions with full confidence. We could see in real-time that the Privy Council judges, while distinguished, are not immersed in Jamaican culture and societal norms, which incur the risk of findings and judgments that do not fully resonate with local contexts and values. Transitioning to a regional Caribbean Court of Justice not only eliminates the possible cultural and contextual dissonance of the Privy Council but will also make justice more accessible to more Jamaicans. The cost and complexity associated with appealing to the Privy Council is prohibitive to many and results in making justice available only to the wealthy, such as Mr. Palmer and his co-accused.

“Critics who oppose withdrawal from the Privy Council argue that the body represents impartiality and a high quality of justice. But, I argue that a Caribbean Court of Justice and impartiality are not mutually exclusive. Other countries, such as Canada, Australia and India, have successfully established their own final courts of appeal, a move that solidified their judicial independence without compromising their quality of justice. Mr. Palmer’s live-streamed appeal not only underscores the need for Jamaica to reassess its judicial ties to the Privy Council, but also serves as affirmation that Jamaica and the Caribbean have the competence, capacity and legal framework to render justice with integrity, fairness, and independence wholly within their own regional context.”

My take

Studies also show that the number of decisions from the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal overturned by the Privy Council is on par with those overturned by the UK Supreme Court.

The Privy Council was established in 1829, when Britain was the dominant world power, controlling and dominating more than 40% of the world’s people. The British government established the Privy Council to serve its “colonies and plantations”.

We unite with the expressed views of Errol Barrow, former Barbadian prime minister, who warned against “loitering on colonial premises”.

Gonsalves’ Malice

Prime Minister Gonsalves has a special distaste for lawyers. This is surprising, considering that he spent about two decades at the criminal defence bar, where he made a name for himself defending the Constitution, particularly the fundamental rights to liberty, free and fair trial and the association with harm or threat to injury of person.

Since he emerged as ruler of SVG in 2001, lawyers have become the PM’s targeted punching bag. Lawyers are frequently traduced in his parliamentary diatribe. Lawyers’ private tax records are brought into the public domain on radio, television, and at public meetings with salty, caustic, and toxic bile and venom.

Last July in Trinidad, PM Gonsalves lambasted judges for allowing bail to accused murderers when he knows that the constitution allows judges to exercise case-specific discretion on the issue. In Trinidad, The Bahamas, Barbados, St. Lucia and Guyana, persons accused of murder have been granted bail.  The PM accused some lawyers of prying special favours from judges and magistrates.

Earlier this week, while announcing the digitisation of records housed at the registry, PM Gonsalves again berated lawyers, saying their opportunity for making money would diminish when the registry is digitised. This, he claimed because registry information will now be at the click of a button.

The truth is that bailiffs and other people working with lawyers make money by conducting searches. Private searches may earn up to EC$350 per search. Lawyers make money on the sale of the property, and the amount is prescribed by the Bar Association.

People laugh at the snide and slanderous remarks, but they are no joking matter. They amount to a serious assault on notions of justice, due process and the rule of law.

Lawyers are officers of the court and are governed by the ethics of the profession. If the PM has information that some judges and lawyers are perverting the course of justice, he should take that information to the relevant authorities, who can investigate and prosecute where necessary.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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].

One reply on “Independence, CCJ or the Privy Council”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    Which part of “our people want to keep the Privy Council” doesn’t Jomo Thomas understand.

    Which part of “most of our people would vote to become recolonized by Great Britain if given the chance to do so” because they recognize that all but one of remaining Caribbean British colonies (Montserrat), namely Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands are far wealthier and developed than we are.

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