Outspoken Attorney-at-Law, Jerry Edwin has described the launch of the promotional activities for the November 6 referendum on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as nothing short of a “political rally.”
The attorney, who attended the event held last week Wednesday at the Grenada Trade Centre (GTC), expressed this view in an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY last week Thursday.
The CCJ and Other Justice related matters Bill was among 7 which failed to receive two-thirds support in the November 27, 2016 referendum.
Grenadians voted against the CCJ by a margin of 9, 492 in favour with 12, 434 against.
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell said then that he regretted the defeat for the CCJ, noting that he should have done more to encourage voters to accept the CCJ as the island deepens its political independence from Britain.
The Grenadian leader vowed to be more involved in the process this time around to secure victory for the pro-CCJ forces.
The Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government launched the promotional activities with newly elected Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley as the guest speaker.
In an earlier interview, Attorney Edwin stated that while he “welcomes the notion of an independent nation and free people having their own final court of appeal in this 21st Century”, he has heavily criticised Prime Minister Mitchell saying that “due to the failure of the last referendum on the CCJ it is improper for the Prime Minister to use his political capital to secure votes for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).”
“The rejection to the idea of the CCJ being our final court (in the November 25, 2016 referendum) reflects actually the public belief that institutions have failed them. There is a lack of confidence that West Indian communities (and the) local population have to institutions.
They feel like the institutions do not adequately represent their interest, similarly with courts,” the outspoken attorney said.
“There is a sense that our institutions are not supporting our interests and here you come now with a court and you as a politician coming and tell us that we should forget about England and come to a court that you tell us, even though you have failed us in everything else that you are doing, that we should support,” he added.
According to the outspoken attorney, “the mistake that the supporters of the CCJ are making is that they are ignoring the very big in bold letters, reason why people reject the CCJ.
“It is (due to) a fear of political interference…I am saying that the involvement of our Prime Minister is going to jeopardise the result (of the referendum). In other words, Keith Mitchell is saying I am going to spend my political capital – I have won two elections unanimously and I am going to now use my own personal political capital and come to the Grenadian people and tell them why we should adopt the Court (CCJ). I think that is improper,” Attorney Edwin said.
He went on: “I think that the best way for Grenadians to understand the role of the CCJ and why an appellate court in the Caribbean is important (and) most of all, to dismiss and distill the doubt that we have about the independence of that court, is to hear from other Caribbean people, who likewise, had doubts about the court.
“I’m sure Bajans, Dominicans, Guyanese and Belizeans had doubts about the court…they have been with the court (CCJ)…they should be the ones coming to the Antigua, Grenada, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Jamaica telling us about their experiences.
“So, I think we have to fall in line as Grenadians at this point, or Antiguans, as we hear that they are now (also) trying to go to the CCJ and invite our brothers from Guyana, our sisters from Dominica, Barbados and Belize (to) come and tell us what your experience is…tell us are you satisfied with this court.
“I think that is how you convince people, not by the Prime Minister, as good a man as he is, coming and telling Grenadians that they should support a court, because the reason we don’t support the court is because we believe that it will be subject to political influence.
“What we had last night was nothing more than a political rally. It just didn’t have a yellow or a green flag. It had the flag of Grenada, but it was a political rally, make no mistakes about it.
Attorney Edwin noted that “people were bused in to fill the seats at the Trade Centre from various parts of Grenada.”
“To believe that there is no political interference in any court is naïve. One could say that at least the Americans are more honest about it, they tell you upfront”, he said.
Attorney Edwin also took issue with the theme chosen for the official launch of the CCJ activities that the adoption of the CCJ was a necessary to rid Grenada of its colonial master.
He said: “To believe that Grenada does not have a plethora of colonial era laws is to ignore the fact that we have on our law books some of the worst colonial era laws and that our Parliament, I can say without doubt of successful contradiction, has not one single anti-colonial advocate, not one.
“After all, it is well known that we permit punishment of the poor by a colonial era law – that is flogging with a whip…I was embarrassed for our Governor General, that she had to sit through the lie, the charade, that adoption of the CCJ is somehow ‘the step’ to rid Grenada of colonialism.
The outspoken attorney also pointed out that “the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are well known to wear with pride a symbol of colonialism every day the Parliament sits.
“Maybe, this is a moment in time when they will rid themselves of the foolish wig that bears the stamp of colonialism all over it and the campaign for the CCJ is their rallying call to some pride and independent thinking,” he said.
Edwin also described the “talk of anti-colonialism” pushed during the launch, as being “empty political persuasion”.
He charged that the bill, which is cited as the Constitution of Grenada (Caribbean Court of Justice and Other Justice Related Matters (Amendment) Bill, 2018, excludes the section which was included in the 2016 Bill about the swearing of allegiance to the country instead of to the Queen.
The other area not included in the new Bill is the section which speaks to the code of conduct for public officials.
Attorney Edwin also pointed to the Agreement establishing the CCJ, which states that “the salary of the President of the Court as well as the benefits to the judges is determined by the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)”.
“… As we all know the common and popular maxim ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’ In the course of human affairs it would be naive to believe that judges are somehow completely removed from political considerations.
“There is no judge, no court, anywhere in the world that is not subjected to some political influence either in the selection of judges or in the outcome of the decisions.
According to Edwin, while he does not believe that the decisions made by the judges of the CCJ or the judges of the Privy Council are susceptible to political influence, however, the selection of these judges clearly has the hand print of political leaders and “to think otherwise is naïve.”
The American-trained lawyer, who supports ascension to the CCJ “in theory” said he is “not satisfied that the specter of political influence on the CCJ has been fully satisfied to our people (in) Jamaica, Trinidad and Grenada.
“What we have in common is that we have not accepted the court because there has to be a constitutional reform process, he said, noting that the countries who have joined the court did not need to go through a constitutional reform.
“It was the politicians that amended their constitutions without having to go to the people to adopt the court. At the same time it might be useful for members of the bar not the politicians and political leaders and I think Mia Motley is a great politician, fantastic lawyer and a great leader, but she is a politician and the last thing we need is a politician telling us about the CCJ when what we are concerned about in Grenada is the specter of political influence of the court.
“Right message, wrong person, that’s my view,” he declared.
“I don’t know that the judicial commission or the people who select the judges are completely free from political influence and that the concern of all the people, who have not joined the court. That’s what we are concerned with, because Barbados never had to put a constitutional referendum to the people.
Attorney Edwin noted the irony in that “the people who have oppressed us for 200, 300 years is the people we are now going to saying give us justice because we don’t trust our own people.”
Thirteen years after its inauguration, only Guyana, Barbados, Belize and Dominica have acceded to the CCJ as their final appellate jurisdiction for all of the Caribbean, where there is intergovernmental or government to government disputes.
Speaking at the recently held Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Ltd. (GMSA) annual business luncheon, newly appointed CCJ President Justice Adrian Sanders avowed to use his seven-year term at the helm of the court to explore all available options to get more CARICOM member states to make the CCJ their final court of Appeal.
This, Saunders insisted, has got to change.
“I think that our strategy has to change, that we need to find ways of reaching ordinary men and women, boys and girls because governments, when they don’t take a step that they should take, they do that because they are unsure what the political consequences are likely to be,” the Starbroek News quoted Saunders as saying.
Although the CCJ is based in Trinidad, the government in the twin island republic does not recognise the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction.
When asked whether he feels comfortable sitting in a country which does not recognise the court’s authority Justice Sanders, said it is disappointing that Trinidad does not yet send their appeals to the CCJ, pointing out that this has a multiplying effect because the countries that are yet to accede regularly question why they should when the state in which the court is housed does not send their appeals to it.
He said, while there is nothing the court can do about that, “it is a cause for concern.”