Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, says the nation, particularly the average Jamaican, stands to benefit greatly from accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
"There is a lot to be gained for Jamaica, not just for the Government, but for the average person in terms of access to the court, which is the critical thing. The average Jamaican cannot afford to take a case to the Privy Council. (Whether it is) land disputes, commercial disputes, personal injury, accidents, tax disputes…or criminal matters, other than death penalty cases, they find it very difficult, if not impossible, to take the case beyond the local Court of Appeal," he said.
Senator Golding was addressing a JIS 'Think Tank', at the agency's head office in Kingston, on September 25.
The CCJ, which is the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community(CARICOM), was established in 2005, to serve the needs of the region as a final appellate court, to replace the Privy Council in London. Jamaica is one of 12 signatories to the agreement that instituted the CCJ. It is based in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Senator Golding pointed out that the CCJ will be a more accessible and affordable court for the average person, particularly with the employment of audio-visual technology, which “allow you to fight most of the cases from right here in Jamaica."
"The court is set up with the region in mind, so there is significant investment in audio-visual and Information and Communications Technology. Much of the work that takes place, can be done without counsels of litigants having to travel to the home base of the court, which is in Port of Spain," he explains.
"That saves significant cost for litigants and for governments which have cases before the CCJ. Right now, because the Privy Council is our final court, many cases that go there, which involve the Government, end up in huge invoices for English Counsels and English solicitors, which can run into many millions of dollars," the Minister pointed out.
He noted that going the route of the Privy Council is beyond the means of many Jamaicans, who would require a visa to travel to England to fight their cases. "Many Jamaicans cannot get a UK visa. It's not available as of right. It actually is a very complex and long form. Many people who apply don’t get it. I think from that standpoint, it's fundamentally inaccessible to our citizens, because they don't have the right to go to Britain. Whether they get a visa or not is entirely a matter for the discretion of the home office," the Minister said.
Senator Golding said that in the nation's 50th year of independence, the time has come to fully embrace the CCJ as the country’s final court of appeal.
"Fifty years along, it is time for us to embrace the regional institution which has the potential to be a fantastic institution. The judges are excellent and their rulings have been illuminating and sound," the Minister emphasised.
"There will never be a situation where everybody agrees with every ruling and that's true of every court…but there is nobody, I think, who can deny the standard when you read the judgements… and the judges themselves who sit on it are of international repute. So, I think there is significant benefits for Jamaicans to go this route and I think it is right," he said.
Senator Golding explained that significant effort was put into the design of the regional court to ensure that it is free of political interference, that it is fully funded up front, so that “it is not at the behest of any regional governments to keep going operationally."
The court currently hears final appeals from three jurisdictions in the region – Barbados, Guyana and Belize. "They also have another function, which is what’s called original jurisdiction, where they adjudicate any disputes arising under the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which are really trade-related matters," Senator Golding noted.
The Treaty of Chaguaramas laid the foundation for the establishment of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, later known as CARICOM.