Attorney-at-law, Ruggles Ferguson has sought to blame political interference in the main for Tuesday’s rejection by the electorate to vote in favour of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace the Privy Council as the final appellate court in Grenada.
The CCJ Advisory Committee, headed by Acting Attorney-General Dr. Lawrence Joseph lost the popular vote 12, 133 to 9846 as the “No Vote” platform emerged victorious in the CCJ referendum.
Speaking to reporters at the St. George’s No. 1 High Court at St. John’s Street, St. George’s last Thursday, Ferguson who is a member of the Advisory Committee pointed out that some persons will always oppose for the sake of opposition.
“If there are persons who don’t want to see the court for partisan political reason, then whatever you do, they would find a way to try to block the process. That’s normal and that’s why the process of going to the CCJ or amending the constitution should be divorced as far as possible from partisan politics…”, he said.
“…I really hope that we were heading that way in relation to this process because it was just a single item. The last complaint (in the 2016 referendum) was too many items – seven items and that last complaint was that the referendum itself relating to the CCJ, there were at least five other issues there including, code of conduct for public officials, retirement age for the judges, changing the name of the Chief of Police, changing the name of the court – so there were many items and even though straight forward items it led to confusion…”, he added.
Ferguson stated that the CCJ had a greater chance of getting support in Tuesday’s referendum vote since both the ruling New National Party (NNP) and main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) had given support to the bill.
However, he said one side in the end took the position “yes, we support the CCJ but no we don’t support a bad bill so vote no”.
This is a clear reference to NDC which urged its supporters to vote “No” on the grounds that a number of issues needed to be rectified in the bill in order to get its support including safety for the salaries of CCJ judges, and the true cost of filing appeals to the Trinidad-based court.
According to Ferguson, one of the lessons that came out from the failed referendum is that no matter what is done, some people will always try to get political mileage out of it.
He said: “You can’t blame politicians, that’s what they do out of any issue – you try to get as much political mileage and unfortunately in a sense our system is adversarial so even when things are good for the country then we find a way not to support it at the end of the day because it comes under a particular administration.
“…That’s the reality with this referendum – no matter what some people would say and I am not saying for everybody because there were those who carry this strong line and even when you engage with individuals on a one-to-one, they wouldn’t come out and say it publicly but that is what it would amount to… so long as a particular government or Prime Minister is there, we’re not supporting,” he added.
Despite the defeat of the CCJ in the referendum, Ferguson felt that a number of positives came out of the exercise especially an engagement with the public on the issue.
He said: “Grenada in my view, has lost a golden opportunity to access the court but nevertheless I see it as a positive in terms of the engagement that was taking place in Grenada over the last four years with respect to the constitution and more recently the CCJ – an engagement we wouldn’t see probably in any part of the world, certainly in any part of the Commonwealth and despite the fact that we made it hard on ourselves but the reality is that at the end of that process that people understood more about our constitution and our courts and that’s a positive. So we can’t look just at the votes”.
Advisory committee member Dr. Francis Alexis told a morning radio and TV programme on Monday that Social Partners including the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce (GCIC) and the Churches should be invited to take charge of the CCJ education process leading to another referendum and not the political parties.