Newly elected president of the Grenada Bar Association, Attorney-at-law, Lisa Taylor has dropped strong hints that Grenada’s push to hold a referendum on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in November could be affected if the State fails to find a solution to the current crisis in the judiciary in which many of the high courts are not functioning.
Most of the high courts have been forced to close their doors since early May due to a health problem at their home within the Lime building on the Carenage.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, Taylor expressed the view that the crisis situation particularly with the High Courts may be “a slowing factor” in the efforts of the Keith Mitchell-led government push to hold a second referendum on the CCJ before year-end.
Although a date has not been publicly announced in Grenada, the caribbeannewsservice online news portal, reported on July 2, that both “Grenada and Antigua will hold referendums on Tuesday, November 6,” as they seek to delink from the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), which has served as the final court of appeal for both countries.
A limited number of countries in the region has ratified the Trinidad-based CCJ as their final court of appeal.
Taylor expressed personal support for Grenada’s ascension to the regional appellate court and said that the “Bar association has affirmed that it is something that it is going to support in principle”.
“I don’t mean to say that every single member of the Bar supports (because) there are those who have differing views, but the bar as a collective has taken a decision that it is something that it will support to the extent where the Bar is prepared to lend advocacy to the issue, to add to the public discussion, to help educate the public about what it means, what the pitfalls (and) positives may be, so that people can make an informed decision,” she added.
The GBA President noted that Grenada was already part of the CCJ as it has signed onto the protocol in which the regional court will be the final arbiter in the interpretation of rulers within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
However, she was at pains to state that the push to make the CCJ the final appellate court could be affected if “the current “situation with the court” is not resolved quickly.
“…If come September we are still scrambling around to find a court, that’s where our minds would be engaged as lawyers (and) it would be difficult for us to get to the advocacy process as far as the CCJ goes … If come September, when the court is supposed to resume, we are still scrambling around trying to find a place for our courts.
That’s just the reality”, Taylor said.
The GBA President who has been practicing law on island since October 1996 said that she herself “support and feel very strongly as an individual and as a Caribbean woman that this (CCJ) is something that will demonstrate the last symbol of our attaining independence.
“We can have arguments about whether we are truly independent (and) there are all kinds of discussions we could have on that but the fact of the matter is that politically, we are and I can’t be comfortable as a collective Caribbean person, that we claim to be independent and yet we are entrusting the final appellate court to an outside country,” she remarked.
The female attorney-at-law stated that she is not making “assertions to the quality of the judgments service that we have been getting but I think the time has passed for us to do so (accede to the CCJ)”.
Opponents of the CCJ have often pointed to the suspicious judgements coming from Caribbean courts.
According to Taylor, the “problems that people envisage about why we shouldn’t get there (CCJ), these are our problems to resolve”.
She acknowledged that “it is difficult for people to wrap their minds about why there should be some focus on going to the CCJ, especially now, when our primary courts, our Magistrate’s Court (and) now particularly our High Courts are in the state that they are in and I understand that”.
“…It is a real legitimate concern but I make this point all the time – even if we remain with the Privy Council those problems are (still) there to be resolved…”, she said.
“…So, I don’t think that there necessarily should be a stumbling block placed in the way of getting to the CCJ because we have problems…”, she added.
Taylor went on: “That’s what independence means, that if you have problems in any element of the societal structure or fabric, whether it’s legislature or the society at large in your judicial realm, those are problems that you will have to confront and deal with and I don’t think we should keep shying away from confronting and dealing with them. So, it’s all part of what we have to do that is required as an independent nation to grapple with”.
“…I think it’s unrealistic that we should expect that all the problems that we face now have to be resolved completely and that we should have some sort of a clean slate to be able to access the CCJ – I don’t think that’s realistic”, she said.
Attorney Taylor told THE NEW TODAY that she considers the November 6 date being talked about as the date for the CCJ referendum in Grenada as “aspirational”.
“I don’t think it’s (the November 6 referendum date) is fixed (but) there are plans afoot to cause the referendum to happen late this year…so it’s probably something that is aspirational, where a date is being considered so that you could work towards putting things in place so that that could happen,” she declared.
She said the most immediate concern and challenge is to find a location and “ideally one that can accommodate all of the courts (in one place) to eliminate the” burden on the Registrar and her staff.
“The hunt is on and at the Bar we would weigh in on any recommendations that are made. Obviously, we can’t make the final decision, we do not have the power to do it but our voice has to be heard as part of the decision making.
Attorney Taylor pointed out that when the powers-that-be make a pronouncement it is the wish of the bar that it concerns construction of a Hall of Justice for the island.
“I think the time has (long) gone passed, where we should not be accepting any further these temporary arrangements…I think if the Cable & Wireless building had served us a little longer, we perhaps would have been there for an extended period but what the recent events I think has brought to the fore is that we really need to push fully for a Hall of Justice.
“Obviously, because we don’t have a court that is something I have to focus on and the Bar has to focus on but we can’t take our eyes off what we have committed to do, which is to lend our voices to the public discourse on the CCJ.
The NNP regime had failed in its first referendum attempt in November 2016 to change the 1974 Grenada Constitution when the electorate voted against the CCJ and six other accompanying bills on the ballot paper.