Governor General Sir Rodney Williams;
President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Hon. Justice Dennis Byron;
Acting High Court Judge, the Hon. Justice Pearletta Lanns;
Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Baldwin Spencer;
Moderator and Attorney General, the Hon. Steadroy Benjamin;
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Gerald Watts;
Members of both Houses of Parliament,
Chairman of the National Coordinating Committee, Dr. Clarence Henry,
Apostle Stephen Andrew,
Invited Guests, Viewing and Listening audencies;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you all to this very important ceremony marking the launch of the public education campaign, for the adoption of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final appellate Court.
It is with great pleasure and pride that I address you, as we seek to share insights, knowledge and information with the entire voting population and our youth, about the Caribbean Court of Justice and the choice we will face in a few months to make it our final appellate court.
It was merely a couple weeks in office, when, on July 1, 2014 during the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference at the Grande Sandals Resort that, I signalled my Government’s intent to have the CCJ as our final appellate Court.
During my presentation I said:
“ We can never be truly independent in the region, while our final appellate court is the court of our former colonial masters.”
I also indicated that:
“Antigua & Barbuda will not loiter on the matter and that we will demonstrate confidence in our own, by taking the appropriate steps to join the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice as soon as practicable.”
It is widely accepted, that all citizens and residents of our beautiful twin island state, could rely on my Government for the integrity of its words and the reliability of its actions.
True to form and as promised, today we embark on the path to make the CCJ our final appellate court.
Whereas, our Government enjoys in excess of a two thirds majority in the Parliament and is assured of the passage of the necessary legislation to give effect to the operationalisation of the CCJ, our Constitution mandates, that we obtain the fiat of the people by way of Referendum.
Evidently, the men and women who journeyed to Lancaster House in 1980, to negotiate a new Constitution for our country, deemed it important to provide the people of Antigua and Barbuda with a voice whenever our Constitution is to be altered.
Any provision of the Constitution that is entrenched, requires the vote of the people. In other words, a referendum is required to change certain Constituional provisions, including the proposed change to the CCJ.
Adoption of the CCJ is just one of several bold moves that my Government has adopted to empower our people and this will complete the circle of sovereignty of our state. We have adopted many initiatives, but by far this is the most important.
As I said before at Sandals Grande:
“ We can never be truly independent in the region while our final appellate court is the court of our former colonial master.”
There are many benefits for the citizenry of Antigua & Barbuda to become a member of the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, several of which I will outline during my presentation.
It is quintessential that we support this progressive change.
I therefore make a clarion call for all registered voters in Antigua and Barbuda to support this important institution of regional Governance and sovereignty.
The Privy Council is clearly an outmoded colonial construct that was designed exclusively for the wealthy few and has failed to provide broad-based accessibility and dispensation of justice to the masses.
Acceptance of the CCJ will not only complete the circle of sovereignty of our state but, it will safeguard and ensure swift and accessible justice for our citizens.
Justice is not only delayed because of the remoteness of the Privy Council but, in many instances was denied because of inaccessibility associated with the prohibitively high costs.
Even Today, justice is being denied to the majority of our people who find it cost prohibitive to take their case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Having the CCJ as an all inclusive final appellate court, will cure this egregious injustice of “exclusivity” that has plagued us since 1834.
The CCJ is an all inclusive and innovative Court, with some of the most experienced and qualified judges emanating from the Commonwealth of Nations. The CCJ judges are ranked among the best to be found anywhere in the world.
In addition, the independence of the court with its innovative self-funding mechanism has insulated the Court from political interference. This is a feature, a safeguard, that distinguishes it from other courts.
As a consequence, its decisions during its ten years of operations have been widely accepted and respected. In many instances, the judgments emanating from the Court have been utilised in other final courts globally as benchmarks and precedents.
The fairness of the decisions of the CCJ, to date, could only bolster our confidence in the quality of the jurisprudence that emanates from the Court.
As stakeholders, as owners of the CCJ, we should all be proud of its work and should spare no effort to support and fully embrace the court.
Sir Shridath Ramphal, a distinguished son of the region, in a paper entitled ‘Creating A Regional jurisprudence,’ spoke emphatically about the quality of the CCJ Judges and equated them to those of the Privy Council. He stated:
“ Surely it is an act of egregious contrariety that we have withheld, so substantially, its appellate jurisdiction in favour of the privy council. Do I need to remind you that from the Caribbean shores, we have sent judges to the International Court of Justice; to the presidency of the United Nations Tribunal on the law of the sea; to the International Criminal Court, among others.”
Many of these judges from the region, who rank among the best in the world have sat and can sit on the Privy Council.
Why then, are there still so many among us, who believe that we cannot get fair and uncompromised justice, from the same Judges that the Privy Council and other international courts have held in high esteem?
Is this a lack of confidence or a form of self-hatred for our own ? Perhaps, these individuals are unconsciously bounded to the past and, have not liberated their minds from the psychological shackles, associated with the institutions of colonialism and slavery.
Our country is being called upon today, to decide whether in this the 35th year of our independence from Britain, we should continue to loiter on the doorsteps of its institutions or assert our dignity and self -worth in choosing our own.
That is essentially the question that is before our nation.
It is a question encapsulated in the immortal words of Bob Marley, as he urged our people – every one of us – to:
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds”.
It is a question in which all of us, have a very big stake with future generational consequences.
Do you want our offsprings to be ashamed of our actions.
Our forebears would expect greater resilience and confidence in our own in keeping with that rich legacy of independence for which blood, sweat and tears were shed for our empowerment.
Our forebears were staunch integrationist, who developed and supported regional institutions for the benefit of the region’s people.
It was our late father of the nation, Sir Vere Bird Sr, Forbes Burnham of Guyana and Sir Errol Barrow of Barbados, who formed CARIFTA, the fore runner institution of CARICOM, right here at Dickenson Bay, in 1965.
It is instructive that two of the pioneering countries are full members of the Caribbean Court of Justice but, Antigua is only a member in its original jurisdiction.
Today, I say to you that we must continue in the tradition of our forebears by developing, supporting and embracing our own institutions.
Why should we beg accommodation in the court of our colonial master when, we own our own CCJ, which is an internationally respected final Court?
It should be noted that, the decision to stay with the Privy Council is not ours alone. At any time, the United Kingdom Government can indicate that they will not hear cases from the Commonwealth to include Antigua and Barbuda.
It was Lord Phillips, as head of the UK Supreme Court and head of the Privy Council, who complained that cases from the Commonwealth, including Antigua & Barbuda was taking up a disproportionate amount of time of their judges and that he was searching for ways to reduce the time spent on those cases.
The intent, even though clothed in diplomacy could not be any clearer.
Evidently, the time spent on Commonwealth cases was impacting negatively on their own dispensation of justice to their citizenry and they were prepared to compromise the time spent dispensing justice on our behalf.
With this intent, Caribbean nations may not only have to contend with the inaccessibility of justice to the masses but, may be faced with perverted decisions, as less time is spent on hearing cases from the region.
I believe that as a prideful nation, we ought to leave voluntarily and embrace our own final court instead of suffering the indignity and humiliation of being asked to leave sometime in the near future.
Or do we want to kick this potentiality of our offsprings being embarrassed down the road or the indignity of being kicked out of the Privy Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The CCJ, with full support of members states in its appellate jurisdiction, will ultimately provide more opportunities for people of the region especially, the brightest lawyers among us, as they build their expertise to serve at the level of the CCJ.
However, I must point out that Judges who will sit on the bench of the CCJ may be chosen from any Commonwealth country. The Court is also an itinerant court, moving from one jurisdiction to another to hear appeals. The cost of getting to the CCJ is, therefore, considerably less than the current choice that appellants now face. The CCJ is affordable.
Justice will therefore be less costly and more accessible to the masses.
Antigua & Barbuda is one of the contributors to US$100 million trust fund, a self funding mechanism. Hence, there will be no additional costs to access the court in its appellate jurisdiction. It is evident that it is in the best interest of our nation, to maximize the use of all of the services of the Court including, the routine equipping and training of officials in the lower courts.
I turn now to the point of improving the quality of life of our people.
The improvement of the quality of life for all who live and work in Antigua and Barbuda is a principal concern of my administration. We are approaching the development of this country in a holistic way. Not only has your Government begun work to bring greater economic growth and thousands of jobs to our people, my colleague parliamentarians and Cabinet colleagues are equally focused on justice for all. A very important aspect of our development.
Justice is always paramount in all we do. It is one of our pillars of development.
The greatness of our Caribbean civilization is to be determined by the ultimate achievement of a people who have transformed an unjust society—built on oppression and forced labour—into a marvellous model of freedom, justice and equality of opportunity.
The end product, my fellow citizens and our esteemed friends, is full sovereignty, with the attendant national and regional pride. We must continue to give each citizen in our developing island state more reasons to feel proud as we press forward to becoming an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.
Adoption of the CCJ as the final appellate court, for the Caribbean and Antigua and Barbuda, will be seen as an advancement in our Caribbean civilization and another achievement to celebrate.
On the topic of generational leadership, generations of leaders have delivered for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. The 39ers were the greatest generation ever. As I said before, they invented CARIFTA in 1965 when Barbados, Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda began the second regional integration movement. I reiterate, since Guyana and Barbados have led in the movement to adopt the CCJ, Antigua and Barbuda is compelled to join that circle once again.
After the 39ers devolved leadership on to the 76ers, the OECS became the brainchild of yet another Antigua and Barbuda leader, the Hon. Sir Lester Bryant Bird. Antigua & Barbuda has been and must remain at the forefront of regional integration.
Now, the leaders in these opening years of the 21st century, are charged with the responsibility, to transform and modernise our society and state for the benefit of all Citizens and residents.
That is why this upcoming referendum is the most important collaborative decision that Government and Opposition will jointly undertake.
My colleague parliamentarians, see this great leap forward, as another in the significant historical movements, to enhance the rights of citizens and residents.
I ask you to pay attention to the upcoming public education campaign and to join in making Antigua and Barbuda a leader in the OECS and the Caribbean.
I now focus on the education campaign.
I have made my position abundantly clear on the subject. I firmly support joining the CCJ. I hope that our people will follow the lead of their Parliamentary leaders and vote yes at the upcoming referendum.
It is an imperative that we complete this circle of independence and preside exclusively over our own destiny.
What is envisioned for this public education campaign is to provide the Antigua and Barbuda audience with the benefit of the full spectrum of issues to consider. We want our citizens and residents to make informed decisions. Not decisions based on misinformation. We want people to receive the facts.
It is a decision that I ask you to carefully consider, as I believe that the choice which we make is sure to be consequential and certainly if we make the wrong choice.
It is a choice that we all and our children will have to endure for a very long time. Hence the importance of making the right choice. Our decision could prove pivotal to the jurisprudential history of the Caribbean.
With this in mind, I have charged my esteemed colleague, Dr Clarence Henry, the Chairman of the National Coordinating Committee, to ensure that our people are informed, and that the views of the people from the length and breadth of the country are taken into consideration.
I have asked that the Committee include representatives from religious groups, the media, the bar association, representatives from business, labour unions and the opposition party among other groups are taken into consideration. The views must be reflective of a wide-cross section of the population.
I have also asked for the youth to be included in the process, as much as possible, because they will be the inheritors of our choices; they also exercise influence over parents when there is need.
The Committee will also be working with the Attorney-General, the Honourable Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, and the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, to ensure that the Referendum is fair and accurately represents the will of the people.
I must point out that this is a non-partisan approach, which is the hallmark of our maturity. This initiative has the strong support of the opposition party—the United Progressive Party.
While it is clear that we will not agree on many things, in July of last year, we were able to have a meeting of the minds. It showed a great deal of political maturity and, more importantly, demonstrated that our paramount interest is ensuring that the people of this great nation are well-served.
Representatives of the Government and the Opposition signed a Memorandum of Understanding which states that we will work together to inform the people of Antigua and Barbuda about the choice that they are being asked to make. We both pledged to leave our political differences behind and to enter into this project with a spirit of cooperation and goodwill. I have not wavered from that conviction and I believe that my colleagues in the UPP are equally steadfast. The public education campaign and the resulting referendum will benefit from a bipartisan approach. My friends, we are in this together! We must all pull together to ensure the success of this referendum.
For this I commend the Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Mr. Baldwin Spencer who signed the documenton behalf of the UPP, and the leader of the United Progressive Party, Mr. Harold Lovell.
I must also thank the Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams, for the role he played in the process.
I have been unapologetic in my desire, and indeed my unswerving commitment, to make Antigua and Barbuda an economic powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with—within the region and rest of the world. I believe this Referendum will show our nation, and those among us, that the interest of the people is more important than political jousting. That alone is reason to be proud that your leaders are working together.
But ultimately the decision is yours, the people of my beloved Antigua and Barbuda. You will decide the fate of our Caribbean Court of Justice.
You will decide on whether justice should remain the domain of the haves or whether to break down that barrier to facilitate the dispensation of justice to the masses.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It has been approximately 20 months since I placed on record my Government’s vision to see Antigua and Barbuda have the Caribbean Court of Justice as its court of final appeal. And here we are today, at the cusp of the fulfilment of that vision. It goes back to my central mission to ensure that the people of Antigua and Barbuda will be able to look to their Government, their nation and their institutions with unrestrained pride. For this, we must begin to embrace our own with pride and dignity. We cannot have economic development and empowerment of our people without strong institutions that engender that growth.
I therefore seek your support for this referendum.
We should approach this referendum with confidence knowing that our decision will serve the best interest of future generations.
Let us remember that we have in the CCJ, a Court that is free from political interference.
Let us remember that we have in the CCJ, a Court made up of brilliant legal minds whose mettle has been tried and tested in international courts.
Let us remember that we have in the CCJ, a court whose judgements have been admired and cited internationally.
Let us remember that we have in the CCJ, a court comprised of our own – people of our culture, and our region, people of our own experience.
Let us not dither on this issue.
I implore you to fully embrace our own Court – the CCJ
Let us support the proposed change to the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final appellate Court.
I thank you in anticipation for your “yes” vote.
In this our 35th Year of Independence, let us close the circle. Let us emancipate ourselves. Let us free our minds. Let us embrace the CCJ.
May God continue to bless our beautiful twin island state.