My Blog List

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Long Live The Caribbean Court of Justice


Dr. Lester Simon-Hazlewood

In an epiphany moment one day, many years after I had grown up, I was travelling on a road away from my village when a giant, incandescent light bulb appeared and revealed the rationale for the seemingly irrational behaviour I had witnessed as a child in some of the inhabitants of my village.

When the debate about the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) digs up irrational, societal behaviour, coupled with irrational responses, we should call in the social psychologists and forensic anthropologists; neither of which I am.

My vote is a yes for the CCJ becoming the final appellate court of Antigua and Barbuda and the region. My vote is a yes because I have regarded the eleven-year history of the CCJ and I have listened to the objections and I am convinced my decision is the correct and logical one, based solely on the legal evidence. Nothing else.

A stark irony of historic proportions is being played out by those who oppose the CCJ and by some who are for the CCJ. When the argument moves away from the sterling work of the CCJ over its relatively short history, we run into contradictions. Yes, the CCJ is not just about the CCJ itself but also about how we feel about ourselves as a Caribbean civilization. But no, the central and essential argument cannot and must not reside in the societal package that encloses the CCJ.

If the yea-voters make the argument that the CCJ is essential because the Privy Council does not understand our local and regional nuances, then the same yea-voters cannot be alarmed when local and regional judges understand our local and regional nuances diametrically differently from the way we understand them.

This differential was the basis of the Observer Group legal case. It revolved around the legal concept of the stark nakedness of the constitution, compared to the inhibiting, tight clothing and aloofness of the constitution. To be fair, the Observer Group went to the Privy Council because that was then the final court of appeal. I am convinced that any such group going to the CCJ will get the same judgement that was handed down by the Privy Council.

The legal profession has an intrinsic problem of alienation from the public. The medical profession had a similar issue until it was forced to come to terms with primary health care. The journey from the posh doctor’s office to squalid communities and to health clinics to practise social and preventative medicine was not an easy trek for many doctors, whether trained at the University of the West Indies or in Cuba.

The CCJ is on a blistering marketing campaign that is almost perfect. The Right Honourable Sir Dennis Byron, president of the CCJ, gets a 99 per cent rating for his presentation, “Restoring Public Confidence in the Independence of the Judiciary”. His 1 per cent shortfall is for not admitting that confidence must be stored first before it can be re-stored. Additionally, the abject failure of the rank and file members of the legal profession, singly or in associations, to court, inform, educate and champion societal issues is a blazing backfire that bellows a loud wake-up call.

But, as Dorbrene O’Marde wrote, it is not about the CCJ. The nay-voters may be saying that they are dissatisfied with the lower courts and they want them fixed first. More deeply, they may be saying they are dissatisfied with their lives, with the way they see not just justice but many aspects of Caribbean life in general and the legal profession in particular.

This entire matter brings to mind the suicide of Kirillov, a character in the novel, The Possessed, by the Russian novelist, Dostoevsky. The reference to this suicide and the intransigence of people is not uniquely mine. The following quote from Stanley Crouch is essential.

“Negro Americans are not predisposed to follow people. They aren't. That's why there is always a certain element of chaos in the negro world because I think from slavery we just didn't like [follow instructions]. So someone telling you over and over that you got to do this, you know....I'm not doing that, just because you said so. Yes, but it's right. I don't care if it's right, I'm not doing it anyway. Why I'm not doing it? For the same reason Dostoyevsky said I'm not going to do it. So that I can tell you that I exist. So I'm just gonna mess your stuff up.”

Interestingly, Stanley Crouch, a jazz critic, with whom I do not always agree, was writing about how Duke Ellington was able to keep his band of dueling personalities together,

Kirillov decides to commit suicide because to him it is the most important act of self-will. A blogger noted that it is his non-cooperation act against his maker and hence his ultimate expression of unbelief.

I believe the nay-voters are not shooting themselves in the foot. They are shooting themselves in the head in a sardonic plea for emancipation from injustice. If this is correct, and if the reference to this intransigence, this inertia, this nihilism and this non-cooperation is correct, (I will take away my ball and stop the game), then there is only one way out of this uniquely Caribbean, societal, suicidal conundrum of justice. It is that voting for the CCJ must be synonymous with and predicated on a vote for reparations.