ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- The OECS Bar Association has issued a statement in response to criticism leveled by Cabral Douglas, an attorney-at-law and citizen of Dominica, against the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) over its decision in a case in which he was the plaintiff.
On February 20, 2017, the CCJ ruled that Douglas had failed to satisfy the requirement under Article 222 (a) and (b) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) to obtain special leave to commence proceedings against the state of Dominica over the denial of entry, detention and deportation of Jamaican recording artist and entertainer, Leroy Russell (also known as “Tommy Lee Sparta”), along with three other Jamaican support staff.
In February 2014, the contingent of four had gone to Dominica for an international concert organized by Douglas in observance of the annual carnival in Portsmouth. The denial of entry ultimately caused the cancellation of the concert.
Detailed reasons for the decision were given in the CCJ’s 41-paragraph, 18-page judgment. Displeased, Douglas has embarked on what the Bar Association described as “a media rampage” describing the decision with a range of uncomplimentary terms including “ridiculous”, “most absurd”, and “laughable at best”. He also attacked the integrity of the court, the credibility of its judges, and the quality of its decision-making.
Moreover, Douglas has linked the decision against him as proof that the CCJ is “in the pockets of politicians” and “corrupt”, citing the attendance of Sir Denis Byron, president of the CCJ, at the annual Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government conference in Guyana around the same time the court’s decision against him was being handed down.
He implies that the matter was discussed among the heads; that Byron met privately during the conference with Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt about the case; and that somehow the heads improperly influenced the CCJ’s decision against him. His attacks on the court have been widely reported in the regional media.
In its original jurisdiction, the CCJ is an international court. The president of the CCJ is expected to attend meetings of heads of government from time to time to discuss matters touching and concerning the proper administration of the regional court, just like the chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) has historically done and continues to do.
Byron’s appearance at the Guyana conference ought not, therefore, to be considered unusual and a cause for concern, the Bar Association said, pointing out that heads of the international tribunals report at least annually to the Security Council of the United Nations, which comprises 15 member states.
The CCJ is said to rank among the more institutionally independent courts in the Commonwealth and wider world: its judges are appointed by an independent Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC); its monies are managed by an independent trust fund; its hearings are open, transparent and can be viewed the world over in ‘real time’; and its judgments are available and accessible to the public online. The full 18 page judgment in Cabral Douglas v The State of Dominica is also available online together with a shorter, more reader-friendly executive summary.
“The OECS Bar strongly condemns the strident, contemptuous, inflammatory, and even defamatory, public criticisms of Sir Denis and the CCJ by Mr Douglas, which fall far short of the objectivity, responsibility, balance and level of respect becoming of an officer of the court. The CCJ represents the highest court for the Commonwealth of Dominica and we call on the Dominican Bar to look into this matter with a view to taking appropriate action,” the Bar Association said.
“The OECS Bar wishes to make it absolutely clear that court judgments are not beyond the boundaries of criticism. In fact, critiques and criticisms of judgments, however robust and passionate, are wholly acceptable and ought to be encouraged as they augur well for the evolution and growth of our law, for the professional development of lawyers, and for the education of the public. As such, we take no issue with litigants or lawyers criticisms of judgments. Such criticism, however, especially from a lawyer, who is an officer of the court, ought to be responsible, respectful, constructive, premised on objective facts, and designed to strengthen our institutions and uplift the administration of justice,” it concluded.