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Jamaican Gleaner editorial

The idea of a final Caribbean court has been long in the making. It is said that as far back as 1901, an editorial in the Jamaican Gleaner called for an indigenous Caribbean final appeal court.

Meeting of West Indian Governors

In 1947, a Meeting of West Indian Governors echoed these calls, arguing that the region needed a  court that better understood its social realities.

Resolution to establish a final Caribbean appellate court

In 1970, at the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, a Resolution to establish a final appellate court for the Caribbean was tabled. A press release from the Meeting stated “The Conference discussed the idea for the establishment of a Regional Court of Appeal. A general but not unanimous view was expressed that it was desirable that Commonwealth Caribbean countries should move towards the termination of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.”

Agreement to establish a “Caribbean Court of Appeal’

In 1989, at the Eighth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, the Heads of Government agreed in principle to establish a ‘Caribbean Court of Appeal’ following a proposal by Trinidad and Tobago.

Time for Action Report

In 1992, the West Indian Commission chaired by Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth presented its Time for Action Report which made a very compelling case for a regional final court. The Report identified the need for such a court within the process of regional integration itself, noting that “the case for the CARICOM Supreme Court, with both a general appellate jurisdiction and an original regional one, is now overwhelming- indeed it is fundamental to the process of integration itself.

Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice approved

By 1999, Heads of Government of CARICOM approved the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice and Trinidad and Tobago announced plans to house the Court in Port of Spain.

Signing of the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice

On 14 February 2001, the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice was signed by 10 CARICOM Member States: Antigua & Barbuda; Barbados; Belize; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; St. Kitts & Nevis; St. Lucia; Suriname; and Trinidad & Tobago. Two years later, on 15 February 2003, Dominica and St. Vincent & The Grenadines, signed the agreement, bringing the total number of signatories to 12.

First meeting of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission

Between 21-22 August 2003, the first meeting of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) was held.

First CCJ President sworn-in

On 18 August 2004, the Right Honourable Mr Justice Michael de la Bastide was sworn in as the first President of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Inauguration of the CCJ

On 16 April 2005, the Caribbean Court of Justice was officially inaugurated in a ceremony at Queen’s Hall, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

First appeal filed at the Court

On 19 August 2005, the first appeal was filed at the Court.

Timeline and Jurisdiction

 

The Court has two jurisdictions, an Appellate Jurisdiction and an Original Jurisdiction. In its Appellate Jurisdiction, the Court serves as the final court of appeal in civil and criminal matters for those countries of the Caribbean Community which are parties to the Agreement and have acceded to the appellate jurisdiction. In its Original Jurisdiction the Court is a court of first instance which applies rules of international law in respect of the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

At present the Court receives cases in its Appellate Jurisdiction from Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana. In the Original Jurisdiction, the Court receives cases from the twelve Contracting Parties to the Agreement Establishing the Court. Decisions of the CCJ in both its Appellate Jurisdiction and its Original Jurisdiction are final.

 

Our judgments, our scales of fees and our Rules of Court, with provisions for poor persons to access the CCJ without fees and security for costs, (e.g. Ross v Sinclair [2008] CCJ 4 (AJ)) have provided accessibility to timely justice for all. Indeed, where possible in applications for special leave to appeal to the CCJ, we have been prepared (with advance notice to parties) to treat an application as the hearing of the substantive appeal.

 

We have put fairness at the heart of our judgments. Thus in A-G of Barbados v Joseph and Boyce [2006] CCJ 3 the Government was held to the legitimate expectation it had created in two convicted murders that their sentence of death would not be carried out until the Barbados mercy committee, deciding whether or not to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment, had received and considered a clemency report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We have also determined that time spent on remand must normally be fully credited when sentencing convicted criminals (R v Da Costa Hall [2011] CCJ 6 (AJ)). Moreover, in Gibson v A-G of Barbados [2010] CCJ 3 (AJ) to ensure the penurious accused’s right to a fair trial, his trial was stayed to allow time for the State to provide him with a reasonable sum of money to cover the fees of a forensic odontologist to counter the State’s odontologist in determining whether or not the teeth marks on the victim’s body were his, this being the only evidence capable of incriminating him. If the money for this key expert was not forthcoming the trial would be permanently stayed and the charge dismissed.

 

Where civil law is concerned we have (in Zuniga v A-G of Belize [2014] CCJ 2 (AJ) struck down legislation that was unconstitutional for imposing a mandatory minimum punishment of five years for any contempt of court flowing from breach of a court order. In support of the fair rule of law we also held void (in BCB Holdings Ltd v A-G of Belize ([2013] CCJ 5 (AJ)) the Government’s executive action, without any Parliamentary legislation, to grant a foreign company a uniquely beneficial tax regime independent of Belize tax laws. Moreover, we have held in Marin v A-G of Belize [2011] CCJ 9 (AJ) that, just as there is a criminal offence of misfeasance in public office that applies to public office holders, like Government Ministers, so there is a civil liability for damages flowing from misfeasance in public office.

 

In Guyana where Roman-Dutch law applies to land but, otherwise, English common law applies as affected by Guyanese legislation, we have held that no equitable property interests in land can subsist e.g. to protect the rights of occupying contractual purchasers against third parties to whom the owner transferred title. Nevertheless, fair protection has been provided to such purchasers, taking account of developments in modern South African Roman-Dutch law: see Ramkishun v Fung-Fee-Fung [2010] CCJ 2 (AJ). The prescriptive rights of adverse possessors of land have also been developed and clarified: see Toolsie Persaud Ltd v Andrew James Investments Ltd [2008] CCJ 5(AJ) and Ramlagan v Singh [2015] CCJ 7(AJ).

 

Judgments have also supported modern commercial practices (in LOP Investments Ltd v Demerara Bank Ltd [2009] CCJ 10(AJ) and Atlantic Corporation Ltd v Development Finance Corporation [2012] CCJ 6 (AJ)) and helped to clarify conveyancing law in Barbados in Hope v Rodney [2009] CCJ 12(AJ), Colby v Felix Enterprises Ltd [2011] CCJ 10(AJ) and Sea Havens Inc v Dryud [2011] CCJ 13(AJ).

 

In our original jurisdiction we have put flesh on the bones of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Individuals or companies of a State can use the Treaty to make their own State, as well as other CARICOM States, comply with the Treaty: Trinidad Cement Ltd v Republic of Guyana (2009] CCJ 1 (OJ). States can be ordered to implement and maintain the common external tariff (Trinidad Cement Ltd v Republic of Guyana (No 2) [2009] CCJ 5 (OJ)) and to pay compensation for breaches of the Treaty: Myrie v State of Barbados (No 2) [2013] CCJ 3 (OJ) and Rudisa Beverages NV v Republic of Guyana [2014] CCJ 1 (OJ). The Secretary General of CARICOM and the Council for Trade and Economic Development are subject to judicial review by the CCJ (Trinidad Cement Ltd v Caribbean Community [2009] CCJ 4 (OJ)) and decisions of the Conference of Heads of Government are as much binding law as is the Treaty. Hence it was established in Myrie (No 2) v State of Barbados [2013] CCJ 3 (OJ) that CARICOM nationals have a right to move freely between States and be granted a stay of six months in other CARICOM States unless it is shown that they are likely to be a charge on public funds or are undesirable in a restricted sense. Moreover, persons cannot be denied entry to Belize or Trinidad by reason only of their homosexual orientation: Tomlinson v State of Belize and State of Trinidad & Tobago [2016] CCJ 1 (AJ).