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Disturbing distortion of CCJ facts

Saturday, July 21, 2018

It is unfortunate that the newly-appointed President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders, has bowled off the beginning of his tenure with a wide ball.

He missed the mark when he expressed “disappointment with the reluctance of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to have the institution as its final court of appeal.”

One would have expected that as a judge, Mr Saunders would have checked his facts before making a pronouncement on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago because if he did, he would have found that the failure of this country to be part of the CCJ lies with the opposition United National Congress (UNC).

For the benefit of Mr Saunders and others who have wrongly accused the current PNM administration of being responsible for the delay in making the CCJ the final court of appeal, let me outline the historical facts on this matter.

1. In 1999, then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday announced that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago would provide a site to house the court, and the Heads of Government approved the establishment of the CCJ.

2. On February 14, 2001, the agreement establishing the CCJ was signed by Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. By 2003, Dominica and St Vincent signed on to make a total of 12 signatories.

3. The CCJ was inaugurated on April 16, 2005, at a ceremony in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

4. In 2002, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago changed and the UNC became the official opposition in Parliament, with Basdeo Panday as the leader of the Opposition.

5. The new Government, led by the PNM, announced that it would proceed with the decision for T&T to join the CCJ, but was unable so to do because of strenuous objections from Panday and his UNC party, who then called for a referendum to settle the matter.

6. Because the PNM-led Government could not get the required majority in the House of Representatives to approve the legislation to make the CCJ its final appellate court, the matter remained in abeyance.

7. The situation remained unresolved until 2010 when another general election took place and a new Government was installed under Prime Minister Kama Persad-Bissessar who maintained the position taken by her predecessor Panday of not supporting the CCJ as T&T final court of appeal.

8. In his column in the Trinidad Guardian on May 30, 2018, under the headline “CCJ Tantrums” Wesley Gibbins stated, “We recall, for instance, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s remarkable outburst in 2005 that the court lacked East Indian judges and was therefore unacceptable.”

9. On April 12, 2012, then Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar made an official statement in the House of Representatives where she gave the country the assurance that “I am pleased to announce that the Government will be bringing the legislation to this Honourable House to secure the abolition of appeals to Privy Council in all criminal matters so that the jurisdiction would then be ceded to the CCJ.”

It is against this background that I take strong objection both to Mr Saunders’s comments and those of the highly-respected anti-PNM columnist Ricky Singh, who, in his column in the Express newspaper, under the heading, “Dancing with the CCJ and Caricom…” wrote, “It is more than time for Prime Minister Rowley to get off his political high horse and offer a public explanation as to why he continues to stubbornly access the Privy Council in preference to the CCJ as this nation’s court of last resort.”

Both men conveniently let UNC leaders Panday and Persad-Bissessar off the hook for being responsible for T&T not accepting the CCJ as its final court of appeal.

It is plain amazing that the Express newspaper has either forgotten or is also actively engaged in protecting the UNC from any blame in this situation. In its editorial of May 29, 2018, titled, “The CCJ Question”, it states, “A former Government of T&T campaigned hard and won the fight for the court to be set up in PoS. And then turned its back on the commitment to access the court in both its original and its appellate jurisdiction.”

We are truly in deep trouble in our beloved country when facts can be dismissed so easily both by persons who hold high office and a national newspaper, on an important and sensitive issue that ought to have have been settled more than a decade ago. Distorting history or revising it to suit a particular agenda, will only gift us the terrible consequences of discord and strife, from which some will attempt to benefit, whilst chaos reigns supreme.

Ashton Ford
Former general secretary of the PNM


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