he vote followed an impassioned plea from the government for lawmakers to replace the London-based Privy Council and assert the country’s total independence from Britain.
The legislation was passed with the required two thirds majority, despite abstention by two opposition legislators including leader Jamale Pringle, who said that while the United Progressive Party (UPP) had no problems with the CCJ, it was still demanding that efforts be made to “fix’ the lower courts here before the move was finalised.
In piloting the legislation, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin urged legislators to adopt the 'Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Amendment Bill 2018', as many countries that were once colonies of Britain have established their own judicial system.
He pointed out that countries like India, Australia New Zealand, and Hong Kong had accepted their independence from Britain “and as a matter of independence they each had their final Supreme Court established in their respective jurisdiction as they wanted to control every aspect . . . of the independent nation.”
Benjamin also took issue with the fact that in order to join the CCJ, there was need for a referendum with a two-thirds majority support, saying some islands like Barbados do not have that stipulation in their constitution.
The Attorney General said that the situation regarding the Privy Council was an affront to any “self-respecting” Caribbean man, and urged legislators “to do the right thing” and support the legislation, as “This is apolitical,” Benjamin said.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne in urging legislators to support the legislation, said most Antigua and Barbuda nationals were unable to access the Privy Council because of the prohibitive costs involved.
“For us this issue is a governance issue,” Browne said, noting that as many as 99 per cent of the population are unable to access the Privy Council.
“We all know to take a case to the Privy Council is in the region of EC$250 000,” Browne said, noting that the costs would be significantly reduced if the matter is brought before the CCJ.
Browne said he was urging all stakeholders to participate in the public education campaign ahead of the referendum on November 6.
“Whereas we are inviting them to participate, they may make the argument down the road that we did not give them a chance and that all the promotional funds were placed on the promotions of the CCJ and we have to watch that too,” Browne said, dismissing as redundant, the arguments against the CCJ which he said had already been addressed in the past.
However, Opposition Leader Jamale Pringle said the UPP would not support a single item referendum in November and repeated calls for the lower courts to be “fixed” before any move is made to the CCJ.
“Time and time again we have said we have no problem with the CCJ but there are other issues that we need to address . . . upon moving to the CCJ,’ Pringle noted.
Pringle questioned whether the CCJ “is the most important issue we have to deal with at this time” and dismissed the argument that Antigua and Barbuda needed to complete its independence by removing some of the last vestiges of colonialism, telling legislators that new bank notes still carry a picture of the Queen and the Head of State is a representative of the Queen.
“There are so many things in this country that we can look at,” he said, adding “you market the CCJ by making our courts better so that the people have the confidence in our courts.”
I strongly believe that we are wasting time and money to move to a referendum without having the total buy in of the general public, “the Opposition Leader concluded.
Antiguans and Barbudans vote in a referendum on November 6 to decide whether to replace the London-based Privy Council with the CCJ, which also functions as an international tribunal interpreting the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.
The CCJ, which was established in 2001, has two jurisdictions – Original and Appellate – but while most of the CARICOM countries are signatories to the original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana have signed on to the Appellate jurisdiction.
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