The Privy Council vs. The Privileges of the CCJ
The seventh Amendment to the constitution was passed by the House of Representatives in February. And the first amendment to be brought into effect is the one that removes the Privy Council as Belize court of final appeal. That job will now be done by the Caribbean Court of Justice which is headquartered in Trinidad. That is the effect of an Order issued by the Prime Minister that the Caribbean Court of Justice will replace the Privy Council as the highest Court of Appeal for Belize effective June first. It's an exciting prospect for the legal practitioners in the Bar Association of Belize for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the court is really high-tech.
Jackie Marshalleck, the president of the bar outlined the prospects for the court and also discussed the widely held view that the death penalty is more likely to be upheld by Caribbean Judges - as opposed to Privy Council judges who had sworn off on capital punishment.
Jules Vasquez reporting
"A lot of people in the public feel that the CCJ is the hangman's court."
Jackie Marshalleck, President of the Bar Association
"I think that is an unfortunate perspective. At the end of the day I don't think that the court is solely focussed on that issue. I don't think you could call it a hanging court per se. I think just like any other court they will consider and hear each case on its particular facts and render decision."
"In practical terms, why is it good? At least from the Bar Association's perspective."
"I think from the perspective of the Bar Association, one of the things we are keen to see is access to justice. Going to England, paying the fees involved with the Privy Council, retaining the English barrister, very expensive process tied to the very strong British Pound. Now we have the opportunity to commence proceedings in a Caribbean jurisdiction. The other thing that we are looking forward to is seeing how our judges develop a common law which reflects the social ethos and the interest and the feelings of the Caribbean people. It would be really interesting to see that because while there are some who would say that having a Privy Council so far away is a wonderful thing, for many of us we don't see the law as a static thing. The law at the end of the day has to be something that people will respect, that people understand. But even from the perspective of being a citizen of Belize, I think that there many of us who look forward to just cutting one of the last ties to the colonial masters, post-independence. We think that our Caribbean jurists have come of age. We have the best and the brightest among us. We certainly appreciate the contribution the Privy Council has made over the years. But its time for us to take up our responsibilities."
"Is it a fair comparison to make between this fledgling court with eminent, bright jurists as opposed to the Privy Council which is the cornerstone."
"The Privy Council and its contributions are legendary. They have been the cornerstone. I think we have to just acknowledge that just a part of our historical development. We did need them, we needed them to be in place for a time while our nation came in to full statesmanship and matured as nations and all the other underlying organizations that needed to be put in place came into being. I think they control the common law, they don't control the development of it, they don't have a lock-in on it, in that respect. We are very comfortable that they are very capable of developing a record as we go forward that is every bit as distinguished as the Privy Council. You have to start somewhere and its time for us to do our part."
"Investors feel more confident if they invest on a country where the last court of arbitration or the court of highest appeal is in England."
"While the court came into effect as far back as August 2001 but was in inaugurated 2005. Since then we had Barbados and Guyana come onboard for both the appellate and original jurisdictions and we have not heard any complaints with respect to foreign investors and investor confidence. I think it was in May we had Justice Adrian Sanders and the Registrar of the Court visit with the Bar Association and start to review some of the rules and the application processes of things that are involved there. I have to say as an Association I think my members were very impressed by the actual functioning of the court. The technology that's available in that courtroom that's literally going to be at your fingertips right in front of you. That's something that we are not used to. It's there for us to take advantage of if we are ready for it."
The Caribbean Court of Justice was established by Caribbean countries on the 14th February 2001. So far, only Barbados and Guyana have joined the CCJ. Belize becomes the third country to do so.