PM not looking for backdoor entrance to CCJ

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says he respects the decision of citizens in the 2009 constitution referendum (File photo).

KINGSTOWN St. Vincent – As the eight-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) moves to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its appellate jurisdiction, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says this will not be used to disregard the decision of Vincentians in the 2009 constitution referendum.

Replacing the London-based Privy Council with the CCJ as this country’s highest court was among the changes to this country’s Constitution that Vincentians rejected in the 2009 referendum.

OECS heads of government, at their recent meeting in St. Lucia, committed to join the CCJ in appellate jurisdiction.

But Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, in discussing the development with journalists here last week, noted citizens’ rejection of the proposed changes to the Constitution in 2009.

He said that the move by the OECS would not be used as a backdoor entrance to the CCJ.

“But I have to report what the situation is,” he told reporters.

“And let me just say this: I am not looking for a way through the backdoor to come out of the [Privy Council]. Let me restate the position, reaffirm it, that it was put to a referendum, the people defeated it. I accept that,” Gonsalves said.

“If, however, another option arises and it is demanded of me by the entire Parliament, then that is a different question. But I am not looking for any backdoor to the CCJ,” he further stated.

He said that when Vincentians see the move by other OECS countries they “may be pulled along” but maintained that accession to the CCJ “is a matter for determination by the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

He added: “It is not a matter anymore on which we can initiate something. We initiated something that failed. I accept the verdict. I have no choice.”

Gonsalves said that if there is “an all party agreement on a particular item” then Parliament “might be able to go forward with it”.

The constitutions of Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) do not require a referendum to allow the switch to the CCJ.

However, both nations require a special majority in their respective parliaments and then negotiations with the British government to terminate the relationship with the Privy Council.

Gonsalves said that Dominica is best placed to join the CCJ because of its government’s special majority in parliament while SKN will need the support of the opposition.

This country and St. Lucia have similar constitutions and the Dr. Kenny Anthony government in Castries will ask the Court of Appeal for advice on how to proceed because of uncertainly about whether or not a referendum is needed to allow the change, Gonsalves said.

“Obviously, if the opinion in St. Lucia is favourable that you don’t have to go to a referendum, … it would mean that that advisory opinion would be applicable also to us,” Gonsalves said.

“But, we have gone to a referendum and the only way you are going to be able to get past that is if you have a unanimous approach in the House and then to proceed to any negotiation. But we, as I see it, are lower down the scale, the totem pole, so to speak, in that regard,” he added.

Gonsalves said that while Antigua and Barbuda require a majority vote in its national assembly and a referendum, the nation is “unlikely to be going to referendum anytime soon”.

“So, that is the state of play in relation to the CCJ. Of course, the British may sometime decide … that they don’t want us any longer on colonial premises. Then you will have no choice,” Gonsalves said.

Read also: St. Vincent rejects proposed constitution

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3 thoughts on “PM not looking for backdoor entrance to CCJ

  1. What is this all about? We were not allowed to vote on each clause of the proposed constitution: we had to vote on the whole package. So if I opposed things like the lack of term limits for the PM and the removal of the proposal for fixed elections and I voted against the proposed constitution, does that say the that I also opposed the move to the CCJ? Or (another issue that I heard it said we opposed) the change from a Realm with the Queen as Head of State to a Republic with a President? No one was allowed to say which of the proposed changes we agreed or disagreed with; so each one of us had to take the whole thing and decide, on a balance of issues, whether our objections outweighed the things we agreed with. One cannot even assume that everyone who voted for the proposed new constitution actually wanted to replace of the Privy Council as our final Court.
    One thing we do know is that the British have changed their judicial system and really do not want to continue with a “Privy Council” which they need to keep just for those former colonies who continue to use it. So sooner or later they will tell us, ever so politely as they usually do, that it’s time we moved on. They will never be so rude as to tell us “get stuffed” but they’ll make it quite clear that that is what they mean.

    Posted by Pat Robinson Commissing | February 6, 2012, 08:18
  2. How about the proposed ACJ, ALBA Court of Justice, Will we be part of that?

    How about the ALBA army that is being formed, are we going to be part of that?

    How about the ALBA military college that opened last year, has any Vincention attended any course there?

    We are members of ALBA without any reference to the people or Constitution, no parliamentry debate, just one mans say so.

    What is the Queens representative [the GG] doing, sitting on his hands, are you afraid Freddy?

    Posted by Peter | February 6, 2012, 10:12
  3. This is exactly my problem with Dr. Gonsolves. Almost everything for him is a game. The comment of Pat Robinson Commissing is spot on. Dr. Gonsolves fully well know the circumstance of the Referendum vote. He knows that we were literally forced to choose “yes” or “No” to the entire constitution. Dr. Gonsolves fully well know that he refused to let the vote be on the major difference in the constitution rather than on a straight “yes” or “no” to the entire thing. For all of us there were things in the constitution that we wanted and things we did not want. Instead of taking some time to work through the differences and come up with a document we can all live with, Dr. Gonsolved rushed ahead and decided that because the constitution was good enough for him it should automatically be good enough for eveybody. This was the problem. I had to vote “no” because there were somethings I could not allow to become law. That is not to say that there were not some good things in the document that I did not desire. For example, I wanted us to join the CCJ. But I did not want the boundaries commission to make decision without legal challenge. After weighing those two issues, I made the decision to vote “No”. If I could have voted on both issues, I would have vote “Yes” for the CCJ and “No” on the power of the boundaries Commission.

    For Dr. Gonsolve to use the referendum defeat to justify his unwillingness to commit to the CCJ is to my mind “scapegoatery”. If he was serious, he would have dealt with this issue in parliment, get a consencus and move from there. To say that Vincentians are oppose to the CCJ based on the referendum outcome is share “bamboozoery”. It is playing games with a serious issue.

    Posted by Olbap | February 7, 2012, 14:20

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