“Go home and tell your parents the positive affirmations and proven work of the CCJ”, was the charge issued to hundreds of the nation’s secondary school students who participated in a National Youth Forum on Friday geared at educating them about the history, functions and operations of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
The order was issued by Samantha Marshall, Minister of Social Transformation and Human Resource Development who was the feature speaker at the event which forms part of a three -month long public education campaign process in preparation for the referendum to decide whether to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ.
“We have in the CCJ, a court that is free from political interference; we have in the CCJ, a court made up of brilliant legal minds whose mettle has been tested in international courts. We have in the CCJ, judgements that have been admired and cited internationally; we have in the CCJ, a court comprised of our own, our own people, our culture, our region. People of our own experience,” Marshall said.
She said the case to move from the Privy Council to the CCJ has been made “compellingly” and “convincingly” and as such, she concluded that it would be a “slap in the face of our forefathers” who gave blood, sweat and tears to end colonialism.”
Marshall, who is also a lawyer, said the CCJ is well equipped to take up the mantle from the Privy Council should Antigua & Barbuda choose the Trinidad based Caribbean Court as its final court of appeal.
Attorney Gail Christian, who is also the Ambassador to Mexico, reminded the students who have attained voting age (18 years) they have a very important role to play in the referendum.
“The decision you make when exercising your right to choose the Privy Council or the CCJ as a final court of appeal, will impact the very pillars upon which our Constitution rests, and in particular the fundamental rights and privileges that are in the Constitution,” Christian said.
She urged them to participate in the voting process and to encourage their parents, guardians, other relatives and friends to do so.
“You have a personal stake in the development of your nation” she stressed, adding “let it never be said you are indifferent to pertinent issues such as the one that confronts us…do not surrender the power you hold.”
Justice Desiree Bernard, the first female judge to sit on the CCJ, addressed the concern about potential political interference to sway the regional court to give favourable judgments for governments headed by officials who may be very familiar with the justices by virtue of being Caribbean citizens.
“The court has been in existence now for just over 10 years and I can assure there has been absolutely no attempt to influence one way or the other. In fact, we have also judges from outside the region. We have judges of the highest authority and erudition,” she assured.
She also stressed that there has been no pressure from governments on the Commission which appoints the judges to serve.
Following the presentations, the students were quizzed on facts outlined in the presentations and were awarded for the correct answers.
There are two jurisdictions of the CCJ and while Antigua & Barbuda and all other Caribbean countries are members of the court’s original jurisdiction, only four nations – Guyana, Belize, Dominica and Barbados, have signed on to the appellate jurisdiction.
Antigua & Barbuda had been contemplating moving from the Privy Council to the CCJ for years, but only recently the government made the decision to hold the required referendum which needs a two-thirds majority to succeed.
Today, media workers will participate in a CCJ education workshop as the National Coordinating Committee continues to execute sensitisation events which will span a three-month period ahead
of the referendum tentatively set for June 2016. The education campaign is being conducted on a budget of just over two million dollars.