The role of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the Caribbean continues to be controversial. The Jamaica Observer  reports that the Government is closer to a decision on whether to replace the UK-based Privy Council with the controversial Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the nation’s final court of appeal. It appears that both Government and opposition now back the move. Currently the appellate jurisdiction of the four-year-old CCJ is limited to Barbados and Guyana, while Jamaica has acceded to its trade provisions for purposes of resolving possible trade disputes.

Some of the motivation for this change can be found in the observations of the Minister for National Security, Dwight Nelson, on the death penalty. The 1998 Pratt and Morgan ruling by the Privy Council that those held on death row for five years or more must have their death sentences commuted fuelled the move towards the CCJ.  To “loud applause”, Mr Nelson told a crime forum:

“There were about six people on death row up to recently and because five of them pass the five-year limit, their sentences have been commuted to life. Only one person now below the five-year limit that is eligible to hang [and] believe you me, I am dying to hang one of them . . .”

We make no comment.

An editorial on this issue from the Jamaica Observer is covered on the Caribbean Court of Justice blog – the leader writer is broadly supportive of the replacement of the Privy Council by the CCJ, but counsels:

“The Privy Council has . . . reversed many an injustice that would have otherwise been allowed to wreck the lives of ordinary Jamaicans who have been victims of local cronyism on the part of those in charge of various institutions here.

These Jamaicans will tell you that they had never viewed the local talent here as anything but obstacles enroute to the Privy Council where they expected to get justice in the long run.

It would be a great misfortune if the CCJ were to be similarly perceived.”

In contrast to the position in Jamaica, it is reported in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian that the leader of the opposition in Trinidad, Basdeo Panday, has stated says he does not expect the United National Congress’ position on the retention of the Privy Council to change: they continue to oppose its replacement by the CCJ as the country’s highest court of appeal. (Although note the position adopted in the Working Document on Constitutional Reform presented to parliament by the Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, in early 2009 and discussed here in November, by John Spence who was a member of the Prime Minister’s Round Table on constitutional reform).

Meanwhile, it is reported that a first instance judge in Trinidad and Tobago has dismissed constitutional motions for re-sentencing brought by forty convicted murderers, whose death sentences had been commuted following Pratt and Morgan. The sentence was commuted to one of natural life or 75 years. In dismissing the motions, the judge said “The case for a still further judicial resentencing, and a sixth consideration of punishment has not been made out. The role of the courts in sentencing these applicants is at an end.”

In an interesting development in the Cayman Islands, a judge has prohibited the publication of a report of a tribunal of enquiry, chaired by Sir Andrew Leggatt, into the conduct of suspended Grand Court judge, Justice Priya Lever. It is reported that the Governor may now need to seek the approval of the Privy Council for the release.

Meanwhile, the decision of the JCPC in the case of  National Transport v A-G of Jamaica [2009] UKPC 48 (briefly summarised here) has been the subject of widespread comment in the local press.  According to the Jamaica Gleaner the Government has claimed that it faces a potential bill of $1 billion (£7.5m) plus interest.

Finally, we note that the new Chief Justice of Northern Ireland – Sir Declan Morgan – has been appointed a Privy Counsellor.  Sir Declan was appointed Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland on 3 July 2009, to replace Lord Kerr on his appointment to the House of Lords.