St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Countries like St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda should first fix their local courts before seeking to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
That position is being advanced by defense attorney Chesley Hamilton who argues that the high court and magistrate’s court need to be given more autonomy of the kind enjoyed by the CCJ.
“You might have to fix things locally, why can’t you move the magistracy from under the executive? Let me break it down for the lay man, why should the magistrate be under the attorney general? Why should the local judge and the local judiciary if they need a bulb changed, have to go to the attorney general? Why shouldn’t they have their own budget? So the perception persists, fix the perception at a minimum and people will have more confidence that I have standing before the judiciary and when I have a conflict with government and its agencies and the power of the executive and the legislature, I know that I have independence and insulation from them.”
A warning from Chief Justice Janice Pereira of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court about attempts to influence the judiciary has prompted calls for the local courts to be strengthened against the practice. Chief Justice Pereira’s comments were made at the new lawyer year in the OECS.
“Let us not pretend or belie the reality with preferred politically correctness, attempts and I repeat attempts, at judicial interference are on the rise. These attempts emanate from places and persons and by methods which you would least expect. The judiciary as an institution and through its judicial officers must remain resolute and focused in their mandate to ensure equal access to justice and equal justice. It is also true to say that never has the judiciary come under greater threat to its independence than in this era, perhaps referable in part to the same instantaneous access to information and the exercise of the freedom of expression. The notoriety and pervasiveness of social media is inescapable, in this context I hasten to add however that it must always be bourne in mind that our freedoms are not absolute.”
Attorney Chesley Hamilton says in the case of St Kitts and Nevis there is a clear example that could feed a perception of political interference in the court system.
“Look at our parliament today, the clerk of the house works as an employee of the registrar of the high court and the acting registrar for some time has been the deputy of the clerk. Now that might not be intentional but it’s almost a conflict and its almost incestuous. So how do you separate the fact that somebody can have the perception that justice is being influenced by politicians? That’s my point, it might not be fact but it’s a perception that the majority of people have about the local dispensation of justice and we, the politicians and the judges have to deal with it.”
Antigua and Barbuda is preparing to hold a referendum on the Caribbean Court of Justice. Hamilton contends that the view held by some on the inadequacies of the local judiciary is fueling skepticism and lack of confidence in the CCJ. Financial analyst Schneidman Warner says with the Caribbean Court funded by CARICOM countries including St Kitts and Nevis their reluctance to sign on to the appellate jurisdiction is baffling given that they are already using the CCJ’s original jurisdiction.
“Under the heading of accountability one cannot justify a system whereby the people of St Kitts-Nevis are paying for a service but not taking advantage of it. It means that tax -payers money is being thrown down the drain.”
Chesley Hamilton concedes that the Caribbean Court of Justice is doing a professional job, he argues however that islanders frustrated with their own local justice system need to be convinced that the problems are being fixed to give them confidence that can translate into support for the CCJ.
“We have the capacity, we have good jurists, we have all of those things. It is not a matter of capacity, it’s not a matter of intellect, it is a matter of confidence and confidence is earned. We have to go out and earn it from the judicial part of it and the politicians must have the will to say this is the right thing to do, we will go out and persuade the minds and hearts that this is the way to go and we can do it.”