From November, the Privy Council in London will cease to be the final court of appeal for Caribbean members of the Commonwealth, bringing to an end one of the final vestiges of the British Empire.
It will be replaced by a new court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), based in Trinidad. The CCJ will hear its first case in March 2005 following its ceremonial inauguration in November.
It will have “discretionary” powers to hang prisoners, in stark contrast to the Privy Council’s judicial committee, which handled the appeals and which has generally been against the death penalty.
The move follows majority votes for legislation that will bring about the CCJ’s establishment in the parliaments of nearly all Caribbean Commonwealth nations, with a small number still to be announced. It ends a relationship between the Caribbean and the Privy Council dating back to 1833 and 57 years of debate on the issue.
Jamaica’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice AJ Nicholson QC told The Lawyer he saw the CCJ “as one of the means by which we as a nation complete our status as an independent people and nation”.
Sylbourne Sydial, Secretary-General of the UK branch of Jamaica’s ruling party, the People’s National Party, said it was crucial the Caribbean “moved away from the Privy Council [because of the UK Government’s] proposed dismantling of the Privy Council” as part of its ongoing reform of the justice system.
The November inauguration will take place despite a case pending before the Privy Council involving a claim that the CCJ can only be ratified by way of a referendum. The case is being brought by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Jamaica’s opposition party.
Jamaica’s Minister of Information Senator Burchell Whiteman said Jamaica went ahead with ratification and he expected “that any outcome of the… case will not affect the CCJ’s establishment”.
Last month the Right Honorable Justice Michael de la Bastide of Trinidad and Tobago was sworn in as the first president of the CCJ, which will have nine judges.
Privy Council Registrar John Watherston said: “It’s always been the position of the government here that this is a matter for the states as to how long they wish to use the judicial committee of the Privy Council. I’m surprised it’s been so long coming.”