Jamaica and the Caribbean Court of Justice

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Selwyn Ryan


There are elements in the Caribbean who hold the view that the independence project could not be deemed complete until the Privy Council was replaced as the final court of appeal for the Caribbean by an indigenous body. The arguments advanced for abolition of the former imperial court are varied. The most important is that one cannot be half-independent; one was either independent and sovereign or not. One could not demand one's political and economic independence and remain subject to a foreign colonial court. Legal independence was the logical capstone of political independence. As Jamaica's Prime Minister P.J. Patterson expressed it, "if we are fit to enact our own laws, we should be fit to interpret them ourselves" (cited in Vasciannie 1996:2). Patterson was even more explicit in an address given February 2000, when he asked:

Can our sovereignty be complete
when the final word on the law as
an essential ingredient in the
functioning of our state is still the
subject of external decision-making
and interpretation by a ... court that
is not indigenous? (cited in
Vasciannie 1998:47)

This view had been endorsed by the Organisation of Commonwealth Bar Associations at its Sixth Biennial Meeting in Jamaica in 1970. One notes that several former colonial states have abolished appeals to the Privy Council. Among them are Grenada, Guyana, Australia, India, Canada, Cyprus, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malaysia, Kenya and Zanzibar. It is however worth noting that being sovereign also means that a state can share responsibilities with another state or with some other regional or international body. It could also contract out functions to some extra-territorial agency, including bodies like the Caribbean Court of Justice or the Privy Council. Sovereignty could thus be devolved and reclaimed (Vasciannie 1998: 45-51).

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