A question of pride
GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, September 5 2012
Inasmuch as Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was in the mood to offer advice when she urged Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, recently, and ipso facto the Government of Jamaica, to move away from the Westminster monarchy and “create your own Republic of an independent Jamaica”, it is a pity that on the home front she does not seek to have Trinidad and Tobago accept the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), wholly, as its final Court of Appeal.
Clearly, adopting the CCJ would make this country truly independent.
However, Persad-Bissessar’s adm-
onishing of the Jamaican prime minister “to take that next step from still being within the Westminster monarchy and to create your own Republic of an independent Jamaica” is instructive. At the same time does this mean that citizens across the board are entitled to take it a step further and urge the People’s Partnership Government to take a policy position that clinging on to the proverbial apron strings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was incompatible with Trinidad and Tobago’s independence.
Indeed, as a former Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Isaac Hyatali, once pointed out, “It is offensive to the sovereignty of independent nations, and therefore politically unacceptable, to have a foreign tribunal permanently entrenched in their constitutions as their final court.” Adding to the injury is that the Privy Council has on occasion called on this country to cease having the Council as its final appeal court.
Perhaps it should be pointed out at this stage that last year there had been the strong hint that Jamaica would be setting up its own final Court of Appeal distinct from the CCJ.
What was seen as inferred from this was that Jamaica planned moving away from the Caribbean Community of Nations (Caricom) and going it alone as it had done following on the 1961 referendum which had led to the collapse of the West Indies Federation.
Jamaica, unlike Trinidad and Tobago, which decided in 1976 it would become a Republic, still has a monarchical system of Government and recognises the Queen of England as its constitutional Head of State. In the meantime, the People’s Partnership Government’s insistence on retaining the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final court carries with it the uncomfortable hint that we still look up to our former British colonial masters. Admittedly, however, Government recently took a halfway decision to have the CCJ as its final Court of Appeal for civil matters, while retaining it for criminal matters. It was a degrading decision, at least the second half of it, and demonstrated a lack of respect for the feelings and pride of countless Trinidadians and Tobag-
Only a handful of Commonwealth jurisdictions, along with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and the few remaining British colonies, still continue to have the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council hear their final appeals. Incidentally, Guyana and Barbados withdrew early from the Judicial Committee.
Speaking of Barbados, a former Governor General of Barbados, Sir David Simmons, noted more than 15 years ago that the “first reason for the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council must surely be the question of sovereignty and independence. The independence of the States of the region will not be complete, is not complete, when our constitutions entrench a foreign tribunal as our final Court of Appeal. It is inconsistent with independence: it is an affront to our sovereignty and the sovereignty of independent nations.” I have quoted both Sir David Simmons and Sir Isaac Hyatali on this issue in the past.
While Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s urging of Jamaica to become a Republic and “take that next step from still being within the Westminster monarchy and create your own Republic of an independent Jamaica” is laudable, nonetheless the Trinidad and Tobago Government should look at the beam in its own eye.
One of the sad truths which has emerged from the European colonisation of the Caribbean is that long after most of the colonies gained their independence they still sought to identify with their former Imperial rulers. Many sent their children to finishing schools in the United Kingdom, France or the Netherlands. The continuing of trade and economic links was understandable, particularly because of the raw materials tie-in. Judicial links, however, with the UK with respect to former British possessions were maintained, largely.
In the Caribbean many former British colonies still cling on to the British monarchy as their own and believe as well, almost obsequiously, that in the end only the British can dispense true justice. We should determine to be fully and truly independent and denounce this servile attitude of all too many of the region’s leaders.