Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Steadroy Benjamin, has made a strong case for Antigua and Barbuda to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Appeal (CCJ).
Benjamin said the government was of the view that it was time to ‘become members of the CCJ’ in all of its jurisdictions.
“Our Region must understand what being a Caribbean national is all about; we must have our own economy, we must have freedom of movement and be able to go to each other’s country and be productive and we must have a system therefore where our own legal system is developed,” he said.
The CCJ was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council and while most of the Caribbean countries have signed on to the court’s original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica, are signatories to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ that also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional integration movement.
Antigua and Barbuda is scheduled to hold a referendum later this year on whether to replace the London-based Privy Council, the island’s highest court, with the CCJ.
Benjamin, speaking in Parliament over the last weekend, said that the British Privy Council has indicated that it doesn’t wish to continue to perform this role for the Caribbean.
He said that even the leader of the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, is supportive of the Regional court. However, Benjamin said political considerations are the reasons why the UPP leader has publicly come out against the CCJ.
“Privately, he supports the Regional court and he has already indicated as much to us,” Benjamin added in reference to a declaration signed last July by both Lovell and UPP Leader in Parliament, Baldwin Spencer, and the government committing themselves to a bipartisan process to make the CCJ the final court of appeal for civil and criminal matters.
Benjamin reiterated the the government’s position that any attempt to politicise the process will result in the matter being delayed until after the next general elections.
The government has set up a National Coordinating Committee headed by the island’s CARICOM Ambassador, Dr. Clarence Henry, who is already on record as saying that the process will be thorough as well as non-partisan.