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First Town-hall successfully completed

Chairman of the National Coordinating Committee (NCC), Ambassador Dr. Clarence Henry, is expressing much delight with the successful launch of the series of town hall meetings that form part of the public education campaign.

The NCC has been mandated to undertake a public education campaign on the pros and cons of Antigua and Barbuda delinking from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council JCPC) as its final court of appeal and acceding to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

With this remit, the NCC has launched a series of town-hall meetings to educate the public about the JCPC and the CCJ.

Monday night’s town hall meeting was held at the Multipurpose Cultural Centre and it featured a panel comprising of the Opposition Leader, Baldwin Spencer, former Attorney General, Justin L. Simon, QC, former Parliamentarian and Spokesman for the ‘No, Not Yet’ Group, Eleston Adams, Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparation Support Commission (ABRSC), Dorbrene O’Marde, Vice President of the Bar Association, Lenworth Johnson with Amb. Dr. Clarence Henry in the role as moderator.

The format of the meeting allowed each panelist to make a presentation of their perspective on the issue. Among the highlights was when Johnson likened the current discussion on the CCJ to the discussion in the mid-1980’s when Antigua and Barbuda was moving to institute the Caribbean Examinations Council’s (CXC) exams. Many years later, Johnson observed, the CXC exams are accepted widely and no one questions their legitimacy.

ABRSC chairman O’Mard noted Antigua and Barbuda achieved independence within a regional context, noting for example that the country was a member of CARICOM even before it became independent. Antigua and Barbuda has an extremely high rate of the acceptance of indigenous regional institutions. Why then is there an unwillingness to accept the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ, he asked.

Speaking for a delay in acceding to the CCJ, Adams said his group believes that Antigua and Barbuda should eventually move towards acceding to the CCJ, but for the moment they want to see a number of things fixed first. These, he said would include dealing with the over-crowding at the prison to upgrade to the physical structure at the Magistrate’s Court.

For his part, Simon looked at the mechanism used to finance the CCJ noting that it is now a model that is being seen as a ‘best practice’ concept by other countries around the world. He said the arrangement has worked so well with the CCJ and with millions owed to the OECS Appeal Court, he is now recommending that a similar mechanism be put in place to finance the operations of the regional appeal court.

Opposition Leader, Baldwin Spencer, a strong advocate for the CCJ, added a new dimension to the discussion by suggesting that other questions should be put to the electorate at the upcoming referendum other than the CCJ matter.

According Spencer there should be other constitutional changes placed before the electorate and not just the single issue of the CCJ.

That point was supported by former head of Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, Juno Samuel, who recommended a complete overhaul of the Constitution. Samuel, who was given an opportunity to make a presentation from the floor, said the current Constitution was handed down to Antigua and Barbuda by the British and that it was time to ‘create our own’.

But moderator and NCC Chairman Amb. Henry noted that the mandate of the Committee was to facilitate the discussion on the CCJ question and that discussions on wider constitutional reform would have to wait until another time.

Other town hall meetings are planned for Barbuda (October 13), Cedar grove (October 20) Bolans (November 10) Villa Area (November 24) Swetes (December 8) and Willikies (December 15).