Attorneys cite political interference, wrong timing
AG wants CCJ as T&T’s final court…
Lack of political maturity and this is not the right time were the sentiments expressed yesterday by two attorneys on whether Trinidad and Tobago should depart from the Privy Council and make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) this country’s final court of appeal.
T&T should approach this with caution, says attorney Martin George.
It is not that this country should never accept the CCJ as its final appellate court, but George said in his opinion, the time is not right.
This is because, the attorney said, we are still in a scenario where members of the public may believe “there is still a bit too much familiarity and closeness and any such suspicion, whether real or imagined”, has the potential to undermine the public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
On Wednesday in Parliament, Attorney General Reginald Armour said he found it difficult to understand and accept why we as “Caribbean persons” lack so much confidence in ourselves to take “the final step” and make the CCJ our final appeal court.
At the time, Armour was speaking during the debate of a private motion moved by Independent Senator Anthony Vieira that the CCJ be recognised as the final court of appeal for Trinidad and Tobago.
He disclosed that within the first week of assumption of office as attorney general, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gave him “unequivocal support” for making a main plank of his tenure in office the completion of this country’s journey to fulfil its treaty obligations of acceding to the CCJ by replacing the London-based Privy Council.
But in a telephone interview yesterday, George said while he was not questioning the integrity and capabilities of the justices at the CCJ, he believed many citizens would cast doubt on the independence of the institution. And this has nothing to do with the court but, rather, with the country’s own capabilities to better manage our judicial system.
“While I do not doubt that we may in time be able to develop sufficient capacity, capabilities and competencies to be able to manage our judicial and legal system all the way to a final appellate court, I think we ought to proceed with caution because once you cross the Rubicon in this way, there is never any turning back from it,” said George.
He said in his view, T&T ought to “observe and look on and consider this position for quite some time again before taking this final decision”.
‘Lack of political maturity’
Attorney Larry Lalla shared a similar view, saying the main reason why this country was not yet ready to accede to the CCJ was a lack of political maturity.
This is something we as a country do not as yet have, but is required, for us to take that final step, he said.
“Our politics unfortunately has infiltrated and polluted all the institutions that were intended under our Constitution to be independent.
“One only has to look at the games played by the Office of the President in the recent incident involving the selection of the police commissioner to see how politics has destroyed our independent institutions and, therefore, until we are in a position where people have confidence in our independent institutions, then we will be ready to leave the Privy Council and have the CCJ as our final appellate court,” stated Lalla.
He said, in his view, before this point is reached, there have to be amendments to the Constitution so that “less power” would reside in the Office of the Prime Minister “and whichever party wins the general elections”.
“People don’t trust the circuit that exists in our country. They feel that the cocktail circuit will infiltrate the CCJ, and until that fear is dealt with and eradicated we will not be ready,” he stated.
He made reference to a past Nigel Henry poll, in which it was stated only 12 per cent of the population had confidence in the present judicial system.
Lalla also had some words of advice for the attorney general.
He said Armour’s time and efforts in attempting to accede to the CCJ could be better spent on other issues, such as the recent disclosure by Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds that at one point he was offered a US$78,000 watch as a bribe, but turned it down.
“The attorney general, as protector of the public’s interest, has a duty to ensure that matter is fully investigated, that he speak to his Cabinet colleague to find out who is the person that attempted to bribe him, and that a report of that bribe is immediately made to the police so that they can investigate it and lay appropriate charges,” said Lalla.
A choice with consequences
In the past, president of the Trinidad-based CCJ Justice Adrian Saunders has spoken publicly on a number of occasions, saying it was disappointing that some Caribbean nations were hesitant to accede to the CCJ as its final appeal court.
His most recent address on the issue was in Guyana last month during its Bar Association dinner.
“Whether a State chooses to continue having Her Majesty’s Privy Council adjudicate its final appeals is, of course, a fundamental constitutional question for that government and its people,” he said.
However, Justice Saunders said while Caribbean nations are free to make a choice regarding their final court, “it is a choice that has consequences”.
“One of the consequences is that this choice deprives people of ordinary means of the ability to avail themselves to a level of access to justice that they could and should enjoy. Another unfortunate consequence is that it impacts negatively on the full development of the Caribbean jurisprudence,” he said.
By: Rickie Ramdass