Caribbean jurists say Trinidad and Tobago bound to accede to CCJ

President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Sir Dennis Byron (Photo by Willett’s Photo)

BASSETERRE,ST. KITTS, APRIL 10TH 2012 (CUOPM) – Trinidad and Tobago will have to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice(CCJ) in keeping with its obligations under international law, senior Caribbean jurists have said.

Media reports say speaking at a forum for regional journalists on Tuesday, CCJ President, Kittitian Sir Dennis Byron, as well as justices Adrian Dudley Saunders and Jacob Wit noted Port of Spain is bound by international law to accede to the final appellate of the court that was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court.

They noted that Trinidad and Tobago did not enter any reservation that it would not be bound by the commitment to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ as had been the case with Suriname, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, whose Prime Minister Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves had personally written his island’s position on the document.

Justice Wit said that Section 39 of the treaty allows for a reservation to be entered with regards to Article 25, but that neither at the point of signing or ratifying the accord did the Trinidad and Tobago government enter any reservation.

He said while the Vienna Convention does not give a time frame for countries to honour their obligations to a treaty “it has to be complied with in good faith.

“It would in my view to say as soon as you can,” he added.

While most of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)countries are signatories to the original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana and Belize have signed on to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ that also functions as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.

The CCJ judges told the forum that while Trinidad and Tobago as well as other Caribbean countries had been meeting their financial obligations to the Port of Spain-based court, “it will not cost it anything more to accede to the appellate jurisdiction.

“It is not benefiting as fully as it could from its investment in the court,” Justice Saunders said.

Last year, Prime Minister the Hon. Kamla Persad Bissessar says her coalition People’s Partnership government is not placing a high priority at on becoming a full member of the CCJ.

Speaking to reporters in the United States where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the Prime Minister insisted that the population of Trinidad and Tobago will determine whether or not the country breaks its ties with the Privy Council and become a full member of the CCJ.

“Right now there are so many pressing issues that we have to deal with, the fight against crime, the difficulties in the economy, the flooding that is besieging us after the years of neglect of our waterways and drainage and so on, these are priority issues at the moment.

“The nation will not collapse waiting to do that(join CCJ) but it will collapse if the crime continues, it will collapse if the flooding continues, it will collapse if the economy is not lifted,” she told reporters.

She said that the Trinidad and Tobago constitution deals with the issue of the role of the Privy Council in the jurisprudence of country.

“I am not of the view and this is our government’s position at this time, we are not of the view that we should tamper with that lightly without hearing the voice of the people of Trinidad and Tobago and indeed during the election campaign, I did say it is something that we will have to have a consultation on with the wider population and not leave it up to five or 10 elected representatives to make such a fundamental decision in our constitutional structure.”

She said that the issues before the Trinidad and Tobago government and population relate to trust and sovereignty.

“Those who are on the side of sovereignty of a nation says we must move away from this old British colonial something thing up in England…they are up there in their ivory tower and they don’t know Trinidad and Tobago and they are too far away and so on. That very disadvantage becomes an advantage.

“That distance also allows them to maintain a very hands off approach and so the trust issues arise and then we sit down and say, Oh, you don’t even trust your own people, you don’t trust yourself so the issues go to sovereignty versus the trust and I am saying it is something as a nation e have to consider but I am not of the view that that is the pressing issue as of today.”

Prime Minister Persad Bissessar disagreed with suggestions that by not joining the CCJ, Trinidad and Tobago was stalling the deepening of the regional integration movement.

Sir Dennis said that the CCJ, which will hold its first hearing outside of Trinidad and Tobago on April 16 when it meets in Barbados to consider at least four cases, defended the independence of the CCJ.

“The independence of the Caribbean Court of Justice cannot be a matter in which there is any doubt. In assessing the independence of a court one looks at both the quality and character of the judges of the court as well as the institutional arrangements for the selection of judges and their security of tenure,” he said, adding “the CCJ meets all of those standards.”

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