Finally we are one step closer to embracing an entity that for too long has been treated as a judicial outcast deemed unworthy of creating regional jurisprudence. Over the years, calls were made from various sectors to abolish the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PC) as our final court of appeal and replace it with an indigenous court that would comprise the best legal minds in the Caribbean. That it has taken us 11 years since the agreement to establish the CCJ and some seven years after the CCJ inauguration ceremony to accept this august institution as something deserving of public trust and confidence speaks volumes about our lack of self-esteem. The concept of a regional court as our final court of appeal was discussed decades ago with then legal luminaries championing the cause for the severance of the last relic of our colonial past. Their drive to establish the CCJ was based on the recognition that there exist amongst us individuals capable of conscientiously, intelligently and impartially administering justice in the criminal and civil arenas without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Perhaps we treat too flippantly the initiative and brilliance of the founding fathers of the Caribbean, who, in their respective territories, led the movement to independence and some to republicanism, as a sign of political maturity.
If that gusto has been sustained by those who replaced those great leaders of the past, the CCJ would have been celebrating at least 30 years of existence. The announcement on Wednesday by the Prime Minister that legislation will soon be laid in the Par- liament to facilitate the CCJ as our country's final criminal court has been received with overwhelming support and acclamation. The significance of the celebration of our 50th year since gaining independence is certainly enhanced by the meaningful move to take our jurisprudence to the next level. The acting Chief Justice, Wendell Kangaloo, aptly described the decision as "a step towards finally creating a regional jurisprudence." Attorneys in the majority across the board feel the excitement about a positive development in the legal system. Our country, admittedly not exclusively, and certainly not on the matter of the acceptance of the CCJ as the final appellate court, has been a leader in the region and so it is expected that other Caribbean countries may follow in the steps of those who are relative latecomers like ourselves to make the CCJ dream, a jurisprudential reality. And while the accolades and best wishes continue to pour in for those who will be responsible for the implementation of the change, let us remember those who first planted the seed for a regional appellate court. One such individual is the first president of the CCJ, a retired Chief Justice of T&T, Michael de la Bas-tide, who is internationally acknowledged as a legal luminary who continues to inspire young professionals and share his vast knowledge and expertise in the law. More than 35 years ago, this intellectual giant stated on public record that the CCJ was long overdue and his commitment to the establishment and acceptance of a CCJ remained unyielding over the years.
That Justice de la Bastide is alive to witness this long overdue move to abolish the PC (although not in its entirety) is a well-deserved gift for one who has given his life to the law. It is hoped that his comments on the recent announcement will not fall on deaf ears and that his concerns will be given meaningful consideration. While the bill to effect the change is being drafted, there should be a timely launch of an intense and comprehensive campaign to educate citizens about the role and function of the CCJ. The layman would have many questions deserving of explanation about the process to be adopted and procedure to be followed in relation to criminal appeals to be heard by the CCJ. One important matter would be whether the abolition of criminal appeals to the PC would enable the reintroduction of the death penal-ty. The answer is-not automatically because constitutional issues still must be addressed. What is expected, however, is a more balanced and realistic approach by the CCJ, when deciding on the subject. It must also be appreciated that the acceptance of the CCJ as the final appellate court for criminal matters does not mean that current precedent set by the PC is no longer valid because until the CCJ gives a decision to the contrary, the existing law remains binding. I commend the Prime Minister for bringing us closer to the CCJ. I respectfully add that nothing should be said or done that would suggest any risk of political interference or monitoring by the Executive in the decision making of the court. The separation of powers remains a fundamental principle in our democracy and one which must be rigorously respected by all.