Tuesday, 26 June 2012 02:30
By Colin James
Antigua St. John’s - Contrary to sentiments in some quarters expressed both privately and in the media the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is an important cog in the jurisprudence of the region.
Sir Dennis Byron, the Kittian-born Chief Justice, said the court is “fully operational” in both its original and appellant jurisdictions.
He said to date, since the establishment of the CCJ about 10 years ago, 64 written judgments have been delivered 54 appeals and 10 original while 39 of them have been published in the West Indian Reports, a journal on important cases.
Critics have argued that the CCJ should not replace the London-based Privy Council, a Colonial relic, as the final court and some Caribbean countries have not signed onto CCJ as the appellate jurisdiction.
Others have argued that the CCJ is a waste of taxpayers’ money because it has little to do while other national courts are under-funded and under-staffed by judges and magistrates.
The CCJ has been set up in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) government as one of the main planks in the establishment of a single market and economy (CSME).
The court in its original jurisdiction has “the exclusive power to resolve disputes between Member States, CARICOM and individuals arising from the implementation” of the treaty, Sir Dennis told regional journalists attending the International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress in Trinidad last Saturday at his court’s office in Port-of-Spain.
“Under this jurisdiction, applications can be brought directly to the CCJ. But if in any domestic case a question arises as to the interpretation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the domestic or tribunal is required to refer the matter to the CCJ for adjudication,” the Chief Justice added.
So far, 12 cases have been filed under the CSME seven applications for special leave to commence proceedings and five originating applications.
“Ten of the 12 matters have already been adjudicated. There are two pending matters, one has already been fully argued and we anticipate rendering judgment during the current month. The other is in its initial stages, and the hearing has not yet taken place. Nonetheless, the CCJ has been functioning with efficiency and in a timely manner, to such an extent that I can assure you that this latter matter will be completed and judgment delivered during the current year,” Sir Dennis said.
“In terms of disputes resolved, these have included matters relating to the movement of goods and the application of common external tariffs in cases brought by manufacturers of cement against the government of Guyana and manufacturers of wheat products against the government of Suriname.
“In the pending matters we are addressing the work of the CARICOM Competition Commission and issues relating to the freedom of movement of persons in the already well known case of Miss (Shanique) Myrie from Jamaica in her claims against the immigration law and practice in Barbados,” he said.
The case referred to involves the alleged cavity search of the Jamaican woman by Barbadian immigration officers and denial of entry to visit the country.
The appellate jurisdiction between July 2005 and June 2012 has had 94 cases filed. From Barbados there were15 applications for special leave to appeal, 11 civil appeals and six criminal appeals and from Guyana, 23 applications for special leave to appeal, 27 civil appeals, and one criminal appeal.
From Belize there have been six applications for special leave and five civil appeals between July 2010 and June this year.
Forty-five senior counsels and 130 juniors have appeared before the CCJ.
Sir Dennis argued that “the number of appeals indicates beyond doubt that there has been an increase in appeals to the final court.
“This indicates that ordinary folk now have additional scope and opportunity to be heard and to obtain justice,” the CJ said.
An interesting trend, he added, is the fact that the number of civil cases filed exceeds the combined total of criminal and constitutional cases. In other words, there are more cases filed in which the State is not a party than cases in which the State is.
“This is an important fact and change from the pattern in the countries which do not have access to the CCJ. The fact is also clear that the civil litigants at the level of the CCJ are not limited to corporate or wealthy people because a number of civil appeals have been heard in forma pauperis (without financial resources to pay the costs of litigation) showing that the ordinary citizen has been benefitting from the existence of the CCJ,” Sir Dennis said.
He referred to a case involving “two very poor ladies (one quite aged)” from Guyana who had a dispute over the right to occupy a condominium and who “could never previously have had that matter litigated by a second tier appellate court.”
They were represented by two Guyanese lawyers free of cost and “were able to have most hearings done teleconferencing,” he added.
Sir Dennis said the CCJ has been instrumental in having videoconferencing installed in the courts of Member States which did not already have the facility.
He said the court and bar association “have had attorneys provide pro bono services so that important matters could be ventilated for persons who could not afford to have their own legal representation.
“Attorneys have expressed their pride in appearing before their own final appellate court and in providing charitable services for indigent clients with deserving case,” the CJ added.
Technology has made it possible for lawyers to “make submissions from their offices” and improvements in the audio conferencing facilities have allowed the court to hear “interlocutory matters via audio, and more recently, by video,” he said.
Daily proceedings are posted on the court’s website “within four hours” and a video of the day’s proceedings is available within 12 hours and both versions can be purchased “at a minimal cost,” Sir Dennis said.