Caribbeans reject Privy Council jurisdiction

Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad are setting up their own Caribbean Court of Justice to replace the Privy Council, in a move which human rights lawyers say is designed to bolster capital punishment on the islands. The Privy Council is currently the last court of appeal for death row cases.

The Lawyer reported in April that the attorney general of Trinidad & Tobago was considering the change. A decision was made at the recent 16-member Caribbean Community summit in Guyana.

Hardwicke Building's Nicholas Stewart QC, chair of the Bar's Human Rights Committee, said: “This move is clearly designed to reinforce capital punishment.”

“We are very concerned at the way in which capital punishment is imposed in courts in the Caribbean jurisdictions and we looked upon the Privy Council's role in the Caribbean as being extremely valuable.”

But at the Community Summit, Trinidad's Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was reported to have told delegates that when approached the Privy Council was overly anxious to get rid of its jurisdiction because of its cost.

Nabarro Nathanson partner George Brown, who has worked on Caribbean death row cases on a pro bono basis, said: “The Privy Council's criticism of the way they [the Caribbeans] administer justice is something they are sensitive to.” Brown added that only disagreements over the structure of the new Caribbean court had prevented the countries from breaking their ties with the Privy Council before.

The manner in which the judges will be selected and the location of the new court is unclear. Jamaica will dominate the new court if judges are selected by population size.

The Privy Council declined to comment.