Capitalizing on the Caribbean Court of Justice – Time to Leverage Opportunities

“Due to its prominent place in the regional structure of the Caribbean Community, the Caribbean Court of Justice has a special role in strengthening the rule of law and in developing Caribbean jurisprudence… The Court must serve as a model of effective justice delivery and best practices and provide leadership to courts in the region.”

[Excerpt from the CCJ Strategic Plan 2013-17]

BACKGROUND

UTDS subscribers will be aware that discussions around adopting the CCJ as our final court of appeal have featured prominently in our blog during the past six months.  In our most recent article, we opined that the planned referendum in Antigua and Barbuda was likely to fail for reasons completely unrelated to the merits or demerits of the CCJ itself.  Rather, a general distrust of government, concerns about political interference and widespread dissatisfaction with the operations of the lower courts have so soured public opinion that there has been a growing tendency to reject Caribbean jurisprudence at all levels. One of the primary concerns has been the inordinate length of time it takes to get a case heard, compounded by even longer delays in obtaining judgments.

Based on the foregoing, recent news coverage of the CCJ delivering a judgment within twenty-four hours of hearing the case caught my interest and motivated me to have a closer look at the CCJ and its operations in a quest to ascertain what accounted for this huge difference in performance compared to the lower courts.

ENHANCING REGIONAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS – THE ROLE OF THE CCJ

Upon visiting the CCJ website, one of the first things jumped out at me – apart from the Court’s effective use of technology to improve efficiency – was the narrative identifying the Court’s seven strategic objectives.[1]  Upon closer examination, I was pleasantly surprised to note that one of the objectives expressly outlined the CCJ’s role in supporting the reform of the lower courts within the region.

 Strategic Issue VII – Enhancing Regional Justice System Performance

Goal 7.1             The CCJ will organize its management and processes in a manner that will enable it to play a guiding role in the improvement of justice delivery in the region.

Goal 7.2             Bearing in mind the Court’s resources and, in keeping with requests of national judiciaries, the Court will develop and adopt effective practices and procedures to strengthen judicial reform and enhance justice delivery.

Goal 7.3             As and when requested the CCJ will assist in any way it can with the development and strengthening of court administration capacity in the region.

Having become aware of the CCJ’s commitment to supporting reform in the lower courts and taking into consideration the oft-articulated public disenchantment with said courts, I wondered why so many of the regional governments – including my own here in Antigua and Barbuda – had failed to capitalize on this opportunity.  As I delved deeper, I found that some countries had indeed sought the CCJ’s assistance with a number of interventions including workshops addressing both legal and administrative matters.

Just last month, over 200 judges, public and private sector attorneys and court registry staff in Guyana benefitted from a training initiative conducted by the CCJ.  The training in question related to Guyana’s new civil procedures and was designed to contribute to improved accessibility to the court, the more efficient resolution of matters and access to mediation procedures.  Further particulars of that activity can be found in the press release issued by the CCJ.

In addition to providing training, the CCJ has been quite vocal in taking local courts to task for the inordinate delays in disposing of matters. On January 27th, the CCJ published its first ruling on a case coming out of Dominica.  The initial action in that case was filed in February 2006 – i.e. eleven years ago.  It was received by the CCJ Registry in December 2016.  This means that the CCJ disposed of the matter in a matter of weeks after the case had spent over a decade in the lower courts.

In addition to leading by example with its timely disposition of cases, the CCJ has documented its dissatisfaction with the status quo in the lower courts.  In the above-referenced judgment, the Court went on record reaffirming earlier pronouncements on the importance of addressing delays in order to ensure that the judicial process remains expeditious and fair to parties.

THE WAY FORWARD

So what does all of this mean for Antigua and Barbuda and other countries still to make a decision re accession to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction? The anti-CCJ advocates have identified the public’s dissatisfaction with the timeliness – or lack thereof – of judgments from the lower courts as well as the quality of judgments as some of the factors working against the CCJ lobby.  In fact, there have been calls for reform in the magistrates’ courts and high courts to precede any move to the CCJ.  Based on the information outlined herein, UTDS is recommending that concerned citizens apply their minds and lobbying efforts to pressuring governments to take advantage of the CCJ’s obvious willingness and ability to assist in such matters.

 

[1] The entire text of the strategic plan can be found at http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/%E2%80%A2CCJ-Strategic-Plan-2013-2017-2.pdf



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