In an interview reported in today’s Financial Times, Lord Phillips is quoted as saying that he was searching for ways to curb the “disproportionate” time he and his fellow senior justices spent hearing legal appeals from independent Commonwealth countries to the Privy Council in London.  He goes on to suggest that, “in an ideal world”, Commonwealth Countries would stop using the Privy Council and set up their own final courts of appeal.

The Judicial Committee Privy Council has moved from its traditional court room in Downing Street to the new Supreme Court building.  For the first time the two courts have issued a Joint List for Future Sittings.  This reveals that the Supreme Court Justices will sit for a total of 33 person days  in the Privy Council – with three retired Court of Appeal judges sitting – but none from the Commonwealth.   Obviously Lord Phillips would like to ensure that the Privy does not use up too much of the available “judge power” although the pool of available judges is very large.  There are 38 eligible Court of Appeal judges along with 11 retired Court of Appeal judges under 75, not to mention Scottish and Commonwealth Judges.  

The Privy Council has made a major contribution to human rights jurisprudence over recent years and many would be sad to see it go.  Nevertheless, from a Court hearing appeals from India, Canada, Australia and a host of other countries, it has been reduced to a shadow of its former self dealing with appeals from 14 countries (largely in the Caribbean) and 16 other jurisdictions (including Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Sovereign Baes areas of Akrotiri and Dhekeliain Cyprus).

The prospects of the Caribbean nations replacing the Privy Council as their final court of appeal is, presently, remote.  The Caribbean Court of Justice at present only adjudicates on cases from Barbados and Guyana.  A former Governor-General of St Kitts & Nevis, commenting on Lord Phillips remarks said that it would take more than “what has been said so politely, so diplomatically, to waken Caribbean leaders from their slumber”.  He suggests that a demand for payment would shake Caribbean leaders out of their denial.

This is a story which is likely to run for some time.

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