ATTORNEY General Reginald Armour has indicated the Rowley-led government will move to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) TT’s final appellate court. He then made a very bold pronouncement – there are no reasons that could possibly present any obstacle to the Opposition Leader supporting the requisite vote.
One of the most fundamental reasons attributed to retaining the Privy Council (PC) is it remains far removed from regional and domestic policies and relies strictly on applying only the law on all matters coming before its adjudication.
In 2019, a poll by Nigel Henry found that public confidence in TT's Judiciary was a mere 12 per cent and while there has been no poll regarding the CCJ, I doubt it will be any higher.
There are many reasons for the public’s low confidence and trust in the judicial system. These include the inability of courts to stem the inordinate amount of time (sometimes as much as 20 years) for matters to go to trial.
Indeed, there might be more people awaiting trial who are on remand than those who are actually serving their sentences.
There is also the firm belief that our courts lack the public's trust and support (including the CCJ) and may be more vulnerable to attempts by political actors to undermine judicial results and/or judgments. The CCJ remains much too close to regional and domestic politics, politicians and policies.
And there are so many glaring examples of this.
It was the PC which ordered the then Manning-led PNM administration to stop its discrimination against Hindus and Muslims forced to accept the Trinity Cross as the country’s highest award since Independence.
Both the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and the Islamic Relief Centre lost before the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Thanks to the Privy Council, the State was ordered to change TT's highest award to one that is all-inclusive.
It took the Privy Council to give meaning and substance to the words of the national anthem, "here every creed and race find an equal place." One would have thought this would have been a duty more aptly discharged by the local courts.
It was the Privy Council which found the PNM administration was discriminating against Hindus who fought for years for a radio licence. Thanks to the PC, they were able to secure the radio licence and exercise their freedom of speech.
The PNM and the local courts were prepared to allow a company owned by a former PNM-appointed mayor to continue to enjoy the largess of discrimination.
Thanks to the Privy Council, public servants like Feroza Ramjohn and Ganga Persad-Kissoon, who were deprived of their positions in the public service by prime ministerial veto, exercised by a PNM prime minister, were able to receive legal redress.
The same can be said about Industrial Court judge Sam Maharaj, who was unlawfully removed from his position on the say-so of a PNM government minister that “he could not read.”
It took the wisdom of the Judicial committee of the PC to declare there cannot be appointments to the JLSC under section 110(3) b of the Constitution of either serving judges or former judges in retirement – a situation left to unlawfully perpetuate itself over decades.
This was allowed to occur in relation to the institution that was responsible for the appointment of judges.
One understands clearly why this Rowley-led administration wants to remove the PC as the country’s highest court.
The Privy Council by its judgments, declarations and development of the law, has been responsible for protecting the rights of TT citizens more than any other institution in our history. It has the reputation of being the singular protection citizens can rely on for real justice, especially against the wrath of the PNM.
I am surprised the Prime Minister and the Attorney General have not yet labelled our highest court as being anti-PNM.