STATE OF THE NATION PRESENTATION BY SENATOR A. J. NICHOLSON, Q.C. ATTORNEY GENERAL AND MINISTER OF JUSTICE


I rise to speak today with a combined sense of duty and of gratitude. It is, of course, my duty to make this presentation on the State of the Nation from the perspective of the Ministry of Justice and the Chambers which I am privileged to lead. On this occasion, however, I am also profoundly influenced by feelings of gratitude. Gratitude prompted, in the first place, by the fact that some parts of our blessed country have been spared the worst ravages of a deadly Category IV or V hurricane. I have made enquiries of the members of staff of Parliament who all state that they refuse to complain since they know that there are very many others in Jamaica who have not been spared to the extent that they have been.
I also wish to extend sincere gratitude to the members of staff of Parliament for the work that they do, very often beyond the call of duty. The functions of my Ministry are particularly dependent in significant measure on the co-operation of the staff here at Gordon House and that co-operation is deeply appreciated.
There is also a sense in which I extend special gratitude to you, Madam President, for the kind of leadership that you bring to the exercises that are conducted in this honourable Senate, sometimes in the face of severe provocation. That kind of leadership is born of strength and a definition of self that is characterized by respect and there are many, including some within our own ranks in this Chamber, who could benefit from such example if they took the time to notice and to emulate that kind of leadership.
My gratitude is also prompted by my own sense that, as we strive to make further progress on the road to development, Jamaica is today poised for the take-off for such progress. So, to look within the province of my ministerial responsibility, there are, no doubt, challenges to be overcome. But, despite well-known constraints, the impartial observer would agree that aspects of the Government’s vision on issues of justice and law have been fulfilled; and, at the same time, we can take heart that, as a result of the diligence and acumen of the functionaries in both the Ministry of Justice and in the Attorney General’s Chambers, we have prepared a solid foundation for future success.
In a recent presentation away from this Chamber, my colleague Senator Burchell Whiteman, a fellow minister not given to sound bites or hyperbole, reminded us of the Government’s vision that Jamaica should become a First World country by the year 2017. I fully share in that vision, and against that background, I wish to outline some of the cornerstones that are firmly in place and to consider some of the main issues faced by the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, as we strive to make our own contribution towards Jamaica attaining First World status in less than a decade and a half.
Cornerstones
From the outset, despite constant expressions of doubt from certain quarters, I wish to emphasize that we already have in place the requisite cornerstones upon which the superstructure of progress is to be erected. First, the Jamaican justice system is open to all persons with grievances. Owing to sterling work from the past, involving persons from all different political persuasions, our court system stretches right across the length and breadth of Jamaica; there are no barriers to the courts in Jamaica. Indeed, if I may again call the impartial observer to mind, that observer could well testify to the availability of courts throughout Jamaica for litigants in all types of cases. In that, we are the envy of a great many countries across the globe. This is not necessarily to suggest that we are a litigious people; it is simply to stress that in matters concerning access to our courts, Jamaica can be compared favourably with many developed countries.
As to the second cornerstone, Jamaica can be proud that it boasts a settled judiciary which maintains the highest standards of integrity, probity and seriousness of purpose. Judgments from the Jamaican Courts — whether at the Resident Magistrates, Supreme Court or Court of Appeal levels – are characterized by their fairness, attention to detail and precision. By the same token, written judgments of our courts are frequently distinguished by their clarity, high level of judicial reasoning, attention to precedent, and erudition.
Because I hold the Jamaican judiciary in such high regard, I react negatively to suggestions, from any quarter, that the Jamaican judiciary does not conduct its work with full independence of the Executive and the Legislature. Madame President, as I speak, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, our highest court, is poised to hear a case concerning measures taken, and to be taken, by the Jamaican State in respect of the same Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I will say more about the Privy Council later in this presentation; for the moment, my point is that there is no doubt that the Jamaican State will continue to respect the rule of law whenever the Judicial Committee delivers its judgment. The Jamaican judiciary is independent of the Executive and the Legislature to the same degree that courts in developed, Western democracies are independent of the other branches of government: in fact, from time to time, I have had occasion to reflect that our courts are more independent than certain courts in some developed countries that place much stock in the much proclaimed separation of powers.
In addressing the third cornerstone, I dare not argue, Madame President, that the quality of the Jamaican justice system is determined exclusively by public sector efforts. On the contrary, the Jamaican private Bar is well-grounded, and the vast majority of our private practitioners perform on a day-to-day basis with dignity, legal skill, and within the terms of the highest traditions of the profession. And I am satisfied that those who marched in their gowns on the Parliament last year must, by now, on reflection, have concluded that that is to be seen as an aberration in the legal history of our country.
To be sure, however, the private Bar also guards its own independence jealously, so much so, Madame President, that the Jamaican Bar Association have taken both you and me to court; my perspective is that this kind of action underlines the vibrancy of the legal system in Jamaica, and our joint commitment to the rule of law. In that, we are bound to count our blessings. So then, having regard to the broad spread and access to our courts, the settled character and independence of the Jamaican judiciary, and the vibrancy and vigour of the Bar as a whole, I am confident that the foundations of the justice system are unimpeachable – ready to support our march towards First World status early in the present century.
As we do so, I would also note that there are other features of social justice in the Jamaican society which must also quickly be firmly cemented to assume the position of cornerstones, for that will help to advance the vision of progress. For example, we are satisfied that the Jamaican media is free; in keeping with the provisions of the Jamaican Constitution, the State, and certainly the present administration, has not sought to impose restraints on the issues that news-gatherers and opinion writers opt to pursue. Naturally, there are laws concerning defamation, intended to show respect for individuals and for truth; but, surely, not even this Government’s strongest critics can argue that the State has imposed fetters on media operations.
Again, Madame President, we note that although our electoral system has had difficulties from time to time, the trajectory in the system is clearly in the direction of solid improvement: today, under the guidance of the Electoral Advisory Committee and the Electoral Office of Jamaica, our electoral system commands growing respect throughout the Caribbean and beyond. This administration is proud of the facilitatory role it has played in creating that trajectory. It is a matter that has an abiding place in the heart of Prime Minister P. J. Patterson.
The proverbial impartial observer then, Madame President, will say that with the cornerstones that we have in place, we have a vessel that is to be seen as half-full. The purveyors of constant doom and gloom will always see the vessel as half-empty or indeed, empty, full stop.
My vision for the justice system, therefore, requires us to build on the cornerstones already firmly laid by those who have struggled throughout the years to uphold freedom, fairness, impartiality, non-discrimination and respect for the basic rights of the individual. In short, we must continue to work to uphold the provisions of Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution; and where history has shown us that Chapter III is deficient, we must make the necessary adjustments, through the proposed Charter of Rights and otherwise, to safeguard and preserve the highest standards for all Jamaicans.
I pause here, Madame President, to lament the fact that, for me, perhaps the greatest regret of my tenure as Attorney General, though continuing, has been that we have not been able to summon the collective will and the necessary collaboration to bring into being the obviously required constitutional instrument – a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Human Rights
Madame President, I wish to re-emphasize the indispensable values of freedom and human rights as we look to the future. Freedom is a concept that we are obliged to value and protect. History has taught us that individuals, acting with free will and under the guidance of their own conscience, are the primary force in the development of modern, forward-looking societies. History has also taught us – and continues to do so – that one of the primary functions of Government must be the protection of human rights. With this in mind, the Government of Jamaica continues to give full support to international human rights issues that touch and concern individuals in this country.
Jamaica’s respect for human rights principles is thus reflected in our continued – and unequivocal — support for the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as our full support for the rules set out in the treaties to which we are a party, such as the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in our commitment to the rules in the American Convention on Human Rights. In the Ministry of Justice and at the Attorney General’s Chambers, we start from the proposition that the protection of human rights forms the basis for our work; indeed, it is our essential raison d’etre.
The human rights that we hold in the highest regard include the right to life, freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, the right to privacy, the right to enjoyment of property and, again, I emphasize the right to free speech. These are not just theoretical rights and, as we implement our vision on the protection of human rights, every effort must be made to ensure that important ideals are translated into reality.
In this regard, I should note some real constraints on Jamaica’s current performance rating in human rights, not so much to dwell on our difficulties, but to explain the Ministry’s vision in light of current realities. In the first place, it is sometimes said that Jamaica cannot adequately protect human rights because of the high level of crime and violence, and especially the prevalence of murder, in the society. Each murder represents the deprivation of the right to life and, as murders and reprisals feed on each other, there has developed a culture that devalues life in various Jamaican communities.
In face of this, one fundamental challenge is for us to guard against the State itself sinking into the abyss of a murderous culture.
This represents the real obstacle course that we will have to traverse on our march towards the wholesome economic and social landscape that has fallen to us to create. This is the experimentum crucis, the enveloping challenge that we must conquer; the dragon that we must slay to be able to enjoy and make full use of the bounteous gifts that nature has bestowed upon us here in Jamaica. This high level of violent crime affects adversely every facet of our lives:
It places untold pressure on our health services;
It increases the number of cases that come before the courts, causing a clog in the system;
It batters the psyche of our people;
It constitutes a breeding ground for the abuse of our human rights;
It certainly lies at the heart of the issues that we face in the justice system in Jamaica and represents the very core of the challenges to the broader reach of social justice.
And, for this reason, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Chambers are keen to work with the Ministry of National Security to ensure that when members of the security forces find it necessary to take a life, they do so only in lawful and fully justifiable circumstances. For even as we rely on members of the security forces to safeguard our personal freedoms, we need to ensure that the proper judicial procedures are followed when allegations of unlawful killing are brought against representatives of the State. Killings by the police and by soldiers are legally justifiable only when done in self-defense or in any of the other circumstances permitted by law; let there be no confusion about this, the Ministry of Justice – this administration – does not, and will not, support killings that are undertaken outside the ambit of the laws of Jamaica. If the State turns a blind eye to unlawful killings – under the colour of law – this will only drive the society into the arms of lawlessness. There will be no confidence in the security forces if the State is perceived as sanctioning unlawful killings. The right to life demands vigilance on all sides.
Period of Public Emergency
In protecting the human rights of one person, the State must, of course, bear in mind that those rights may impinge on the rights of other persons. So, for example, my right to free expression cannot be licence for me to slander others or to be rude to other persons. Against this background, the Ministry of Justice remains acutely aware that the protection of human rights will in some instances require a balancing of different interests. This issue has recently come to the fore in the context of the Period of Public Emergency declared by His Excellency the Governor General at a time when Hurricane Ivan was heading directly towards Jamaica. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General declared the Period of Public Emergency pursuant to the Jamaican Constitution and the Emergency Powers Act.
As principal legal adviser to the Government, I remain firmly of the view that the declaration of the Period of Public Emergency was fully justified. By virtue of Section 26(4) and (5) of the Constitution, the Governor General may declare a Period of Public Emergency if he is satisfied that this is an appropriate course of action in light of the occurrence of a hurricane. Now, with Hurricane Ivan bearing down upon Jamaica, and with reports of the devastation brought by the self-same Ivan to our CARICOM partner, Grenada, was it not right for the Prime Minister to advise the Governor General to declare a Period of Public Emergency? In this context, I should also say that the damage threatened and brought by Hurricane Ivan took the form not only of physical damage from wind and rain; for, as is well-known, there was a significant threat of looting, a threat which in some cases has sadly been realized. As the Most Honourable Prime Minister has indicated, a Government which did nothing when faced with the realities of Ivan, could have been charged with dereliction of duty.
In reaching the decision on the Period of Public Emergency, the Government was obliged to weigh various considerations, including the possible impact of the Period of Public Emergency on the human rights of the citizenry. But here, the issue of balance clearly arises. Without such a Declaration, there was a significant risk that mayhem could have followed in the wake of a serious Category IV or V hurricane, reported by the New York Times to be the sixth most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history. If mayhem had indeed followed, the rights of Jamaican citizens to their property and to the expectation of security would have been seriously compromised. Those rights were balanced against the restrictions on movement and association that may have been applied under the Period of Public Emergency.
Some departments of government, apart from the law enforcement agency have to be engaged in activities that may prove incompatible with the individual’s normal enjoyment to his rights and freedoms. For example, when Parliament enacted the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Act in 1993, it must have been assumed that, to give the Act requisite efficacy in times of disaster, the companion measure of a state of emergency may very well be in force for such period as is necessary.
Having defined “disaster” in the Act to mean:”the occurrence or threat of occurrence of an event, caused by an act of God or otherwise, which results or threatens to result in loss or damage to property, damage to the environment, death or injury of persons, on a scale which requires emergency intervention by the state and includes widespread dislocation of essential services, fire, accidents, hurricane, pollution, disease, earthquake, drought and flood” whenever it occurs or is threatened as in the case of Hurricane Ivan, how is the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management to commandeer equipment and supplies and compel people to evacuate disaster prone areas? How are its officers to be protected from civil liability?
Consider also the powers of the National Works Agency under the Main Roads Act. That Act prescribes procedures to be followed in the closing of main roads and using private lands as a road. In a state of emergency, in responding to a natural disaster, the ability to dispense with some formalities, albeit temporarily, is an essential measure in restoring order. So too, are the formalities under the Flood Water Control Act to be treated with when flooding is caused by hurricane and any other major act of God.
Regardless of the criticisms that are leveled, we do not intend to plant any seed or to send any signal of any tide of anger that will come about in a couple of months, as we have heard prophesied in this Chamber recently. We have been visited by the forces of nature; by an act of God. In that, there is no place for partisan gamesmanship. The winds blew and the cloud-bursts descended on the just and on the unjust alike.
The Terrorism (Prevention) Bill
The question of balance in respect of human rights has also assumed prominence in the course of Parliamentary and extra-Parliamentary deliberations on the Terrorism (Prevention) Bill. The Terrorism (Prevention) Bill seeks mainly to give effect to Jamaica’s obligations under International Law. More specifically, the United Nations Security Council, acting in response to the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, has passed various binding resolutions, including Resolution 1373, on steps that States should take in the fight against terrorism. These measures may be mandated by the Security Council, but, in addition, Jamaica believes that they are an appropriate response to the circumstances in which we now live. The Security Council itself, we recall, has made the specific link between terrorist activities and the pernicious trade in dangerous drugs.
Thus, the Terrorism (Prevention) Bill seeks to criminalize acts of terrorism, the financing of terrorism, and the provision of support to persons involved in terrorist activity. It also provides for the restraint of property of persons charged with a terrorism offence and for the inflicting of serious punishment on persons involved in terrorist activity. Our intention in putting this Bill forward is to ensure that terrorists, and those with terrorist intent, cannot regard Jamaica as a soft target for their actions; by the same token, terrorists should not believe that Jamaica provides any kind of base or safe haven for terrorist activities aimed at other countries.
We emphasize once again that the Terrorism (Prevention) Bill recognizes the need to balance the basic human rights of citizens with the right of the State to protect the same citizens. In other words, the Bill balances specific freedoms, on the one hand, with the security of individuals on the other. I believe that this balance is properly struck. Thus, although suggestions to the contrary have been made, it is not intended that the Terrorism (Prevention) Bill, when passed into law, will curtail the right of Jamaicans to participate in demonstrations, to cite one of the disingenuous suggestions that have been made.
Secondly, the Bill is designed to punish persons who knowingly take part in terrorist activity or knowingly facilitate such activity; it will not impose liability on persons who do not know that they are helping a terrorist to commit a crime.
Thirdly, although the Bill supports stiff penalties for terrorist activity, the penalties are neither draconian nor arbitrary. The main approach taken has been to state the upper limit of sentences to be delivered upon conviction. The actual sentence for particular crimes in specific circumstances will be left to judicial discretion, the approach which is taken with respect to most offences in the criminal law.
Consequently, the Terrorism (Prevention) Bill, in keeping with our vision for Jamaica, will help to maintain a safe environment in which people may carry on with their lives, in which tourism activities may take place, and into which investments may flow. The Bill will allow the courts to balance the rights and freedoms of the individual against the rights of individual members of the same society to live in peace and security.
The Death Penalty
Madame President, the question of the death penalty prompts a variety of different, and sometimes irreconcilable, viewpoints. Those who support the death penalty are apt to argue, among other things:
that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to some murders;
that the death penalty acts as a form of just punishment for those who take the lives of others; and
that, in our majoritarian democracy, we should pay significant attention to the fact that most Jamaicans want to have the death penalty imposed and carried out in appropriate cases.
Some supporters of this sentence will also quickly cite scriptural authority for their position, while other supporters may point out that, given our prevailing murder rate, the use of the death penalty should be extended, not curtailed. Another argument occasionally put forward concerns reprisals: it is suggested that if the death penalty is abolished, there could be more reprisal killings as persons seek to avenge the slaying of their loved ones.
On the other hand, those against the death penalty have no shortage of arguments in their favour. Thus, opponents of the death penalty point out, among other things:
that the death penalty is not actually a deterrent to murder;
that when the State sanctions killing for any purpose this undermines the sanctity of life; and
that, even in majoritarian democracies, some questions of principle cannot be answered directly by reference to the will of the people, for the majority may well be subscribing to oppression or tyranny.
Opponents of the death penalty also argue that this form of punishment is no more than retribution or State-sponsored revenge, that there is a significant risk of error in death penalty cases, and that Biblical authority is ambiguous on the question. They argue that if Jamaica is to be regarded as a humane society, it will need to stop the putatively barbaric practice of putting people to death.
Madame President, I retain the view that, as a start, this matter should be fully debated by Parliament, and that there should be a conscience vote on the death penalty. There will be arguments about the legal significance of a conscience vote and so on, but this would allow the Parliament to send a strong signal as to the majority perspective on this difficult question. One thing that we must refrain from doing is to continue to project the quite inane view that the reason there has not been for some time the execution of the death penalty in Jamaica, is that the present administration does not have the political will to do so. The Opposition Spokesman on Justice constantly maintains that the government does not have the guts. I merely ask this question: If the explanation is that simple, why, pray, has the Parliament of Barbados for example found it necessary to amend their constitution to reverse the effects of the five year rule in Pratt and Morgan and the effects of further decisions made in its wake by the Privy Council?
Parliament will soon come to examine other aspects of the death penalty consequent upon the decision of the Privy Council, earlier this year in the case of Lambert Watson. In that case, the Privy Council ruled that it was inhuman or degrading punishment for the State to impose a mandatory sentence in capital murder cases. That decision represents another occasion in which the Privy Council has found fault with Jamaican legislation or practice on the death penalty. We have already referred to the 1993 case of Pratt and Morgan in which it was laid down that if the time that has elapsed between the sentence of death and execution exceeds five years, there will be strong grounds for believing that the delay was such as to constitute inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.
The countries of the Caribbean, it should be noted, are the only countries in the world in which such strictures have been placed concerning the execution of the death penalty. In fact, in reaching that decision, the Privy Council expressly overturned its own jurisprudence and, in particular, its decision in the case of Riley in 1982, ten years before, in which it had ruled that the length of time for which a person was held on death row would not negate the validity of the death sentence.
Likewise, in the case of Neville Lewis in the year 2000, the Judicial Committee was faced with clear decisions handed down by themselves on the requirements of procedure concerning local mercy committees in cases ending with Reckley in 1996. Nevertheless, in Neville Lewis, the Privy Council overturned those cases and was prepared to overturn a decision made only four years earlier. In the Lambert Watson case, that appeal was heard along with two others from Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. In the case that came from Trinidad & Tobago, Charles Matthew, the Privy Council overturned its own decision from just one year earlier concerning the mandatory death sentence in that country. The decision overturned from last year, 2003, Roodal did not last long enough to be implemented in even one instance.
This listing has impelled the cognoscenti in the Caribbean and elsewhere to suggest that the Privy Council is, at best, inconsistent when it comes to Caribbean death penalty cases. They maintain that a government cannot properly arrange affairs of state when its final appellate court continues to send such conflicting signals within a very short period of time. Lord Hoffmann, a Judge of the Privy Council, sent the warning in a dissenting judgment in the Neville Lewis case when he said that: “If the Board feels able to depart from a previous decision simply because its members on a given occasion have a ‘doctrinal disposition to come out differently’, the rule of law itself will be damaged and there will be no stability in the administration of justice in the Caribbean”.
Such statements fuel the perception that the result you get in a death penalty case before the Privy Council may well turn on the composition of the court in the specific case. I am yet to be truly convinced that this is so. My own view on the matter is that the driving force of human rights doctrine and activities and, in particular, the approach to the death penalty, during the past quarter of a century or so has had a powerful effect on the disposition of judges and others in the European Union, including Britain. One thing is sure, Madame President. Like Barbados, the Jamaican Parliament – our Parliamentarians – will at some time come face to face with resolving and reconciling these issues, one way or the other. It is a duty we may run away from: but we cannot hide from that duty forever. Our society cannot afford to remain in limbo on a matter of such real and present importance.
Other Aspects of the Justice System
Some other features of the justice system have been given a fair degree of public attention in recent times. On one of these — the question of payment of judgment debts by the State – the Government has taken the decision systematically to make payments on all outstanding claims, beginning with the earliest and moving forward chronologically. There will therefore be a schedule of payments and individuals will be given a realistic assessment of the time it will take for their payments to be made. Funds will be dedicated for this purpose.
Secondly, I should refer to the problem of the backlog of cases within the system. This is a difficult problem which, if I may be frank, stems in large measure, from the high level of criminal activity within the country; for, as increased resources are made available to tackle the problem the number of persons for trial increases, so the backlog remains. That has been my advice to the human rights groups, including Amnesty International. It should be noted, however, that this year, on the initiative of the Chief Justice, there have been increases in court sitting specifically designed to reduce the backlog; and for this kind of service, I wish publicly to express our gratitude to the members of the judiciary and the attorneys who have assisted the process.
Thirdly, the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s Chambers continue to be concerned about the problems highlighted by persons who seem to go missing within the prison system. These problems are apt to arise with respect to persons who may be of unsound mind or who suffer from mental problems to one degree or another. In some cases, these persons are found to be unfit to plead and, in others, they may be convicted of a crime but found to be insane at the time of the commission of the crime. Where such persons have in the past been detained “at the Governor General’s pleasure”, in some cases they have been lost within the system. Given that this situation is quite intolerable, the Government has been considering ways of ensuring that persons with mental difficulties are monitored more carefully by the courts.
Specifically, the Government is to bring to Parliament amendments to the Criminal Justice Administration Act that would require the court registrar or the clerk of the court to keep a register of persons who are deemed unfit to plead or who have been convicted but have been found to be insane. Regular and frequent reports are to be made to the courts, as a matter of law, under the proposed amendments. This must be closely court-managed. The proposed amendments will also provide that legal aid is to be offered to accused persons in the criminal courts who appear to be mentally challenged.
It is expected that these amendments will be brought to Parliament during this Parliamentary year.
The Caribbean Court of Justice
The Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Chambers have been active in efforts to ensure Jamaica’s participation in the long proposed Caribbean Court of Justice. Madame President, as you are aware, Jamaica is a party to the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice, and both Houses of the Jamaican Parliament have passed the legislation intended to give legal effect to the Caribbean Court of Justice within the Jamaican jurisdiction. As Madame President will also be aware, however, aspects of the proposed Court have been questioned in the Jamaican courts by the Opposition and certain civil society groupings. Both the Jamaican Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal have considered whether this Parliament could have been prevented from debating the relevant legislation on the establishment of the Court and, at the Court of Appeal stage, attention was also paid to the question whether the structure of the proposed Caribbean Court of Justice violates the terms of the Jamaican Constitution.
An appeal now lies before the Privy Council from the decision of the Court of Appeal. As I have said before, there may be some irony in the fact that the Privy Council is being called upon to pass judgment on the court designed to replace the Judicial Committee itself for Caribbean countries; but, it is evidence of our respect for, and adherence to, the rule of law, that we have participated fully in the litigation to the present time. And, although we have vigorously disagreed with the proposition that the structure of the Caribbean Court is unconstitutional, there can be little doubt that the Jamaican Government will conform to the decision of the Privy Council.
The Jamaican Government stands by the view that the time has come for the Caribbean Court of Justice. I hardly need to repeat that in the postcolonial period it is simply incongruous for sovereign, independent countries to rely on a court made up almost exclusively of Englishmen – not women – to make final decisions about our affairs. Not only is this not in keeping with our vision of Jamaica’s place in the world, but the continuation of Privy Council appeals also suggests a degree of Caribbean self-doubt that we should have overcome long ago. Lord Hoffmann, himself a member of the Privy Council, in a speech to the Trinidad and Tobago Bar signaled clearly that in his view Caribbean States should make their own final decisions, given especially that the Privy Council is not entirely familiar with the social and cultural conditions of the region, much less of individual territories.
And, besides, the distance of the Privy Council, the fact that so few cases actually reach the Privy Council, and the costs to litigants of having cases heard by the Privy Council, all suggest that it is time for us to establish our own court. Thus, we are ready to take the further steps to bring the Caribbean Court scheme into operation. But no one should doubt our will and our resolve to proceed towards the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Conclusion
I close today by reiterating the view expressed by Minister Whiteman that Jamaica can be a developed country by 2017. To achieve this, the nation will need to pull together efficiently, placing emphasis on private initiative in appropriate cases, but also acknowledging the values of team-work, cooperation, and the public spirit.
I pay tribute to the members of staff at the Ministry of Justice and at the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, the Legal Reform Division and all others that I have not named, many of whom I have called upon to work at various times of morning, noon and night. I pay tribute also to the Solicitor General, B. St. Michael Hylton Q.C., whose legal acumen is as legendary as his outstanding leadership skills; and to Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer, whose administrative skills and capacity for long, hard hours of overwork have helped significantly to keep the Ministry of Justice vibrant and active.
In the course of our work, we must implement a vision. We believe that the Government must strive continuously to make Jamaica into a more humane and progressive society. We must work to ensure that the law is clarified in a way that redounds to the benefit of the people of Jamaica, and we must always seek to attach paramount importance to human rights and justice. That is our role, and we will continue to fulfill it.
Madame President, Vision 2017 requires us to be bold. That has been a characteristic of the Jamaican spirit throughout the ages. The cornerstones are in place. We will call upon that cultural strength of boldness to win the prize, to reach our goal.

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