ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda: Voters in two Caribbean countries long independent from Britain will wrestle with thorny issues of fairness and sovereignty on Tuesday (Nov 6) as they go to the polls to decide whether to keep a London-based body as their final court of appeals or embrace a court much closer to home.
Although the sun set long ago on British rule across most of the region, many English-speaking islands retain the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), which traces its roots to the Middle Ages, as the final word in the administration of justice.
The upcoming constitutional referendums in Antigua and Barbuda and in Grenada will gauge public consensus on officially adopting the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) instead. They require a two-thirds majority to pass.
The JCPC, comprising British Supreme Court judges and senior judges of other Commonwealth countries, adjudicates on all manner of cases – currently hearing, for example, a claim for damages resulting from a traffic accident in Antigua and Barbuda.
The court has also decided on weightier matters, including ruling in 2002 that it was unconstitutional for tiny St. Lucia to use capital punishment as the mandatory sentence for murder.
A vendor displays colorful clothing on a beach in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, where voters on Nov 6, 2018 will decide whether to keep a London-based body as their final appeals court or embrace one closer to home. (Photo: AFP)
ISSUE OF SOVEREIGNTY
Many see ditching the Privy Council as an important step toward breaking centuries-old colonial ties and achieving true independence from Britain.
The Caribbean court heard its first case in 2005. Several Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries have signified their intention to eventually adopt it as their final appellate court, but only Dominica, Guyana, Barbados and Belize have done so.
“It’s an affront to our sovereignty that a foreign tribunal should be our final court of appeal.”
The Judicial Committee of Privy Council, established in 1833 but with roots in Medieval times, was once the court of last resort for the entire British Empire.