Trinidad’s partial move to abolish appeals to the Privy Council is puzzling
When I read a release from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Wednesday night that the CCJ welcomes the plan by Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar to withdraw from the Privy Council and accede to the CCJ Appellate Jurisdiction, I was very happy, since I got the impression that the twin island republic would sever all connections with the London-based Privy Council.
However, unfortunately this is not the case, the T&T Prime Minister said that she will introduce legislation to remove the Privy Council as the final court only in criminal matters, and civil appeals will still be determined by the British-based Court. This I find not only unusual, but confusing. It is like having one foot in and the other out.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar said that she has decided on the move following discussions she had with her counterpart at the recently concluded CARICOM meeting in Suriname. She added that she had given an undertaking to the other heads of government that she would approach the issue on her return to Port of Spain. But it seems as if she cannot make up her mind and decided on the halfway route using the approach of “caution and gradualism”
I am baffled at the Prime Minister’s approach, especially since she said that she and her government have confidence in the CCJ, but she preferred to be cautious like the People’s Republic of China and Singapore, when those two countries phased out their withdrawal from the Privy Council.
The Prime Minister made a very valid point when she said that “ties to the Privy Council developed complications in particular with respect to the issue of death penalty”. This seems to indicate that that is her main reason for routing only criminal cases to the Port of Spain-based regional court.
Persad-Bissessar is a Caribbean-trained attorney who was elevated to Queen’s Counsel last year, but she failed to take into consideration that civil appeals cost litigants a fortune and it would be unwise for the London-based Court to continue to hear them, although she agrees that there are capable judges at the CCJ. She also made the point that there has been “critical observation” from commentators, jurists and institutions concerning Trinidad and Tobago’s relationship with the Privy Council.
Moreover, on August 31 the oil rich country will celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence. It would be five decades of political independence, but they still want to hold on to the coat-tails of the British masters for civil justice.
It is ironical that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were on the forefront of the regional court two decades ago and those two big countries are still tied to Britain. Moreover, Persad-Bissessar even proudly noted in her statement in Parliament last Wednesday that her mentor, Basdeo Panday, who was Prime Minister in 1999, announced that his Government would provide a site to house the CCJ.
So far only Guyana, Barbados and Belize have abolished appeals to the Privy Council and have accepted the CCJ as the final appellate court.