Trinidad and Tobago to be centre for Caribbean Court

Trinidad and Tobago is to be the seat of the new Caribbean Court of Justice in a move that will restore the region's control over the lengthy appeals process in capital punishment cases.

The new court will replace the Privy Council as the last court of appeal for death row cases in four of the Caribbean's Commonwealth countries – Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica.

Speaking at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London, minister for foreign affairs Ralph Marag and the attorney general, Ramesh Maharaj, said the next step in the process would be for the heads of government to work through Caricom, a pan-Caribbean economic interest grouping, to set the criteria for the selection of judges.

As the The Lawyer reported in July, human rights lawyers in the UK have expressed concern at the move, claiming that the Privy Council plays an important role in checking the way Caribbean courts deal with capital punishment cases.

But Maharaj said that the country's use of the death penalty was not a human rights issue.

He emphasised that Trinidad and Tobago's democratically elected government had promised to solve the country's serious crime problem.

“Confidence in the judicial system is being lost as the death penalty is not being implemented,” he said.

“Democracy, investment and economic progress could be in jeopardy.”

Last year approximately 200 murders took place on the islands, which have a total population of 1.2 million.

Maharaj added that Trinidad and Tobago rejected the belief of some large countries that their legal cultures should be imposed on others, especially if they are small.

He pointed out that in the US there are 3,000 people on death row. He said it appeared that a different rule applied to the US than to Trinidad and Tobago.