Referendum unwarranted

The Portia Simpson Miller administration in Jamaica says a referendum to determine the island’s full accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) would be “unwarranted, divisive, disruptive, inappropriate and could cost the country at least $700 million “(US$7.7 million) to conduct the national exercise.

Minister of Justice, Sen. Mark Golding, told a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) “Think Tank,” at the agency’s head office in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, that, under the country’s constitutional arrangements, a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate would suffice for Jamaica to subscribe to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.

Although a signatory of the founding treaty, Jamaica has been denied full accession to the regional court.

The country’s attempt to formalize its participation was blunted in February 2005, when the Privy Council declared that the CCJ-related companion bills passed by the Jamaican Parliament in 2004 were unconstitutional and, therefore, void. The bills would have established the CCJ as the final court of appeal in Jamaica, the JIS said.

Following the December 2011 general elections, the People’s National Party (PNP) government restated its intention to have the CCJ serving in both the original and appellate jurisdictions for Jamaica, symbolizing Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of nationhood. Resolution of the matter is set to gather momentum during this legislative year, JIS said.

On July 28, the government tabled three bills in the House of Representatives, aimed at replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the CCJ as Jamaica’s final appellate court. The bills are scheduled to be debated in both Houses, followed by a vote for their approval.

Golding said the nation, particularly the average Jamaican, stands to benefit greatly from accession to the CCJ.

“The average Jamaican cannot afford to take a case to the Privy Council – land disputes, commercial disputes, personal injury, accidents, tax disputes or criminal matters. They find it very difficult, if not impossible, to take the case beyond the local Court of Appeal,” he said.

Golding said the CCJ will be a “mobile court,” and will utilize information and communication technologies.

He also said it will be a more accessible and affordable court to the average person, “particularly with the employment of audio-visual technology, which allows you to fight most of the cases from right here in Jamaica.

“The court is set up with the region in mind, so there is significant investment in audio-visual and information and communications technology,” Golding said.

“Much of the work that takes place can be done without counsel of litigants having to travel to the home base of the court, which is in Port-of-Spain (Trinidad),” he added.

“That saves significant cost for litigants and for governments which have cases before the CCJ. Right now, because the Privy Council is our final court, many cases that go there, which involve the government, end up in huge invoices for English counsel and English solicitors, which can run into many millions of dollars,” he continued.

Golding also notes that going the route of the Privy Council is beyond the means of many Jamaicans, who would, in addition, require a visa to travel to England to fight their cases.

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