A few months ago, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart saw it necessary to publicly berate the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Parliament.
It was during debate on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) (Amendment) Bill, 2017 last December that Mr Stuart clearly spoke his mind on the CCJ.
In fact, based on all he had to say then, one would have thought that Barbados would sooner turn back the clock on that area of jurisprudential independence, than go the route of a republic and end this island’s allegiance to the Queen, as the Prime Minister soundly warned that “I do not myself get too overwhelmed by what the Caribbean Court of Justice says.”
At the time, he was clearly upset about the court’s own public scolding of Barbados over delays in its judicial system.
But rather than deal with the matter discreetly as he would have had the CCJ judges do in terms of their reporting, Mr Stuart decided to publicly admonish the CCJ in Parliament, accusing it of slandering unnecessarily, Barbados’ good name when it was one of the few islands that had put its full legal faith in the CCJ, by making it its final appellate court.
“All the others still go the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and when you read decisions coming out of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council … evidence of horrible delays is uncovered in CARICOM countries that have not signed on to the CCJ,” Mr Stuart said, adding that “the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council handles that issue of delays much less salaciously than seems to be the case when the issue is being handled here in the Caribbean”.
It was not the first time that Mr Stuart had publicly been at odds with this country’s highest court.
Following the CCJ’s verdict in favour of Jamaican Shanique Myrie in 2013, Mr Stuart had also complained that the automatic six-month stay for CARICOM nationals imposed by the court would open the floodgates for the unemployed and criminals.
However, he said at the time Barbadians ought to respect the ruling because Barbados was not “any banana, plantain or fig republic” but “a country governed by the rule of law”.
Based on all that has been said above, we would have thought that the very last topic that Mr Stuart would have wanted to raise at last week’s CARICOM Heads of Government summit would be that of membership in the CCJ, but of course we thought wrong.
In fact, Mr Stuart deemed it unacceptable, a “disgrace” even, that, to date, only four CARICOM Member States have signed on to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction.
“I do not buy the argument that there is a division of opinion in the countries that have not signed on to the court in its appellate jurisdiction, because the biggest decision that CARICOM countries have had to make has been on independence.
“If we’ve all decided that we want to be independent and we were able to unite the population on those issues, I cannot see why on matters relating to how our disputes are handled and how our grievances are addressed that we still believe that the former colonial master is better than people here in the Caribbean,” he said in an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service, as the 29th Intersessional summit of CARICOM leaders came to a close in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“You can’t have one foot in and one foot out” in terms of the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Mr Stuart added, while expressing optimism that the matter would be addressed at the next CARICOM summit in July, and that more definitive answers would be taken on what steps members states proposed to take to correct the situation.
Could it be that our leader has come down with a sudden bout of foot-in-mouth-disease? For surely, based on his comments last December, any CARICOM country that was about to sign on to the CCJ and to abolish appeals to the British Privy Council, would be having second thoughts about doing so, just as it would seem that his Government has had second thoughts about going republic.