By David A. Comissiong
A national Referendum on the issue of whether a Caribbean nation should disengage from the British Privy Council and accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the nation’s highest appellate Court is more than just a vote about a court of law.
Rather, it is a vote that presents the national population with an opportunity to assert their inherent human right to self-determination and personal dignity, and to make a major advance in their historical journey towards the interlinked goals of full national sovereignty and Caribbean civilisational independence.
It is with this understanding in mind that I therefore look forward with great anticipation to see how the people of Grenada – the citizens of my late father’s native land – will vote in the 6 November 2018 Referendum on the CCJ.
Grenada, for me, has always been an “island of heroes”. Aside from the fact that my late Grenadian father – Rev. Vivian Comissiong – is one of my own personal heroes, I am of the view that, for its size, Grenada has produced more heroic historical figures than perhaps any other nation in the world – heroes that have valiantly resisted European imposed enslavement and colonial domination as they sought to bring their people into a promised land of full autonomy and self-determination.
It is this struggle/journey that the Grenadian people should have at the back of their minds when they make their way to the various polling stations on 6 November.
Spare a thought for the original owners of the island of Grenada – the Carib or Kalinago people – who were so determined to resist the European colonisers and to maintain their autonomous nationhood that in 1651 (at Sauteurs in the north of the island) they chose death rather than to live in a state of European imposed servitude and national dishonour.
Recall that as early as 1765 our enslaved African ancestors – faced with the onslaught of an influx of rapacious British slave plantation owners who had descended upon Grenada – revolted against the British plantocratic regime and tried their best to escape the jurisdiction of the British slave plantation by setting up their own maroon communities.
Reflect on the tremendous example of the so-called “free-coloured” revolutionary leader, Julien Fedon, and his lieutenants – Stanislaus Besson, Etienne Ventour and Joachin Phillip – who, in the 1790’s fought the British colonisers to a standstill and almost succeeded in destroying the British colonial and slavery regime.
And then contemplate the fact that from the very beginning of the 20th century a succession of heroic Grenadians have been in the vanguard of the Caribbean struggle to extricate our region from the tentacles of British colonisation and to establish not only an independent Grenadian nation, but also an autonomous, integrated Caribbean Civilisation.
This latter period of Grenadian nationalist struggle encompasses the turn-of-the century activism of the great black patriotic newspaper editor William Galway Donovan; the decades long Pan-Caribbean political, journalistic, and industrial activism and institution building of Theophilus A. Marryshow; Eric Gairy’s 1950’s radical, grassroots mobilisation of the Grenadian peasantry and working class against the British colonial authorities and the social elite of Grenada; and – of course – the mighty “Grenada Revolution” of 1979 to 1983 and the efforts of Maurice Bishop, Unison Whiteman, Jacqueline Creft and others to demonstrate that Grenada would never be content to remain in anybody’s colonialist backyard.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that the Grenadian people will be voting for (or against) on 6 November 2018 is our very own Grenadian and Caribbean institution and is part of a structure of freedom and nationhood that we Caribbean people started to build for ourselves way back during the early struggles of our indigenous and African ancestors.
The CCJ is the outgrowth of a centuries long process, but its more contemporary roots are to be found in our 1965 establishment of a Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA); our 1973 transformation of CARIFTA into the more developed Caribbean Community (CARICOM); our 1981 establishment of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS); and the goals that we set for ourselves in 1989 with our Grand Anse Declaration and its aspirations towards a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
As we set about building for ourselves a regional nation or civilisation it became clear that a natural and necessary component of that process must be that we take ownership of our entire national judicial system, inclusive of our highest national Court of Appeal.
And so, in 2001, Grenada joined together with nine other CARICOM nations – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago – to sign the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as both an “international court” vested with jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of our Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, and as the highest “municipal or national” Court of Appeal for our CARICOM region.
Grenada also acted with great vision and a sense of responsibility by contributing its portion of the US$100 Million trust fund that our CARICOM states established to finance our CCJ on a permanent and secure basis, and by playing a role in establishing our independent and well-structured Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission to oversee the running of our CCJ.
But in spite of the highly commendable role that Grenada played in constructing and investing in the CCJ, Grenada has – up to today – only ever utilised the CCJ in its original “international court” jurisdiction, but never in its “municipal or national” jurisdiction as Grenada’s highest Court of Appeal. That honour and critical function has – up to today – been reserved for the foreign-based British Privy Council.
The CCJ was inaugurated on 16 August 2005 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and has therefore been in operation for some thirteen and a half years now. And during that extensive period of time it has served all of our CARICOM nations as our “international court” vested with jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of our Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, and as the highest municipal or national Court of Appeal – but only for the nations of Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica.
Needless-to-say, over the thirteen and a half years of its existence our CCJ has performed excellently well in its role as a final Court of Appeal, and, along with the University of the West Indies, has proven to be an institution of our Caribbean Community of which we can be justly proud – an institution of our Caribbean Civilisation that does justice to our foreparents’ historic struggle for dignity, self-respect, autonomy and nationhood.
Why then should Grenada or any other Caribbean country for that matter have any reservations about extricating itself from the inherently “colonialist” situation of having a foreign, European court that is located thousands of miles away from the Caribbean as its highest supposedly “national” Court of Appeal?
If we reject the CCJ – one of our greatest indigenous Caribbean constructions – we are in danger of rejecting both ourselves and our ancestors and their heroic struggles.
(David A. Comissiong is an Attorney-at-Law in Barbados and considers himself as a son of the Caribbean Community)