The controversy surrounding the CCJ Bill

Grenada’s Acting Attorney General, Sir Lawrence Joseph has confirmed that if the controversial CCJ Bill receives the required two-thirds majority vote at Tuesday’s poll then “another referendum would be needed” to make any further significant changes thereafter.

Acting Attorney General Sir Lawrence Joseph –
Photo credit: Nazim A. Benjamin

The Constitution of Grenada (Caribbean Court of Justice and other Justice related matters) (Amendment) Bill, referred to as the CCJ Bill, has come under heavy scrutiny, with several legal minds describing it as a “rushed bill,” citing several errors and omissions, which in their view should be amended before going to the polls.

The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), has since called for a “no vote” with its Interim Political Leader Joseph Andall telling the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) regime to “take time to address and correct the errors and flaws where they exist” in the bill.

Attorney-at Law, Jerry Edwin from the Law Firm of Eden Law Caribbean called for a postponement of the referendum poll in light of the failure of the authorities to address the concerns being expressed.

The CCJ Bill is adopting the same position as in the current Constitution in which the British-based Privy Council is not allowed to hear matters emanating from the conduct of national elections.

Another flaw cited involves the prescribed threshold for taking civil claims to the regional appellate court and the requirement of another referendum poll if changes are to be made to the Bill.

Speaking exclusively with THE NEW TODAY via telephone last week Friday, Sir Lawrence, who is serving as Chairman of the CCJ Advisory Committee, explained that “it depends on what omissions we are talking about,” noting that certain changes can be made, without holding another referendum poll.

He pointed out that the Bill authorises for its implementation in stages and for Parliament to make changes to at least one section without another referendum poll – the section dealing with the threshold for taking civil matters to the CCJ.

“The bill authorises for certain parts of the bill to be taken in stages…the bill can be enacted section by section, so if you find there is an error in (any) section, you can leave it out,” Sir Lawrence explained.

In an attempt to shed some light on the issue regarding the required value of civil claims going before the appellate court arising as a result of what Attorney Edwin has described as a “large disparity” in the $1, 500 set out in the Grenada CCJ Bill, in comparison to the $25, 000 stipulated by the appellate court, Sir Lawrence explained that the bill itself authorises that “the $1500 threshold for taking a civil matter to the CCJ (as stipulated in the bill) can be changed,” noting that the bill provides for Parliament to change threshold.

“That ($1500) is in the Constitution,” Sir Lawrence said.

“We just adopted what’s in the Constitution,” he added.

The CCJ Bill seeks to amend the Constitution of Grenada to change the final appellate court from London’s Privy Council to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice.

According to Sir Lawrence, the Privy Council was set up in 1833 by the British, to assist Commonwealth countries “especially, British plantation owners because disputes would arise among them”.

“So, in order to give them (plantation owners in England) some measure of comfort, they set up this Privy Council…it was not set up to deal with any matters in England, it was set up to deal with matters arising from (the approximately 200 years of trading that took place among) the colonies,” he added.

The Acting Attorney General is of the view that Grenadians should embrace the opportunity and vote yes for CCJ, because “the Privy Council can withdraw their services at any time”.

“There is no necessity on the part of England to have the Privy Council (in operation)”, he said, noting that “The British taxpayers are paying hundreds of thousands of pounds (to facilitate the Privy Council) and the judges in the Supreme Court of England, who are also the judges of the Privy Council have complained that they occupy about 40% of their time to deal with Commonwealth matters.”

Additionally, he said, “the British government haven’t given notice to any country to leave the Privy Council,” noting that “generally, when these colonies became independent – Australia, Canada, South Africa, India – they voluntarily left the Privy Council and they formed their own final courts of appeal”.

“So, right now you just have only CARICOM countries, Jamaica come right down to Trinidad…about eight countries in the Caribbean, plus about four in the Pacific that still have the Privy Council as their final court of appeal”, he said.

“So, even if the British Government does not take steps now, at any time you can expect the British taxpayer will raise up, because the British taxpayer is paying thousands of pounds to upkeep it. So that’s the situation,” he added.

Sir Lawrence also said: “Before all colonies were a part of the Privy Council, but as years rolled by, when they became independent, they dropped the Privy Council as their final court of appeal. This is what we are trying to do now with this bill. We are trying to drop the Privy Council as our final court of appeal and attach ourselves to the Caribbean Court of Justice”.

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