Caribbean islands vote to retain London-based appeal court
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St. John's (Antigua and Barbuda) (AFP)
A centuries-old London body will continue to have the final say on the administration of justice in two Caribbean ex-colonies after referendums to replace it with a regional court failed to reach the requisite majorities.
British rule in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada ended decades ago but -– like many of the English-speaking islands -– they have retained the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as their final court of appeal.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Wednesday described the result as "disappointing but not surprising," given the lack of support from the main opposition.
Voters in both nations went to the polls Tuesday to determine whether to officially adopt the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) instead.
Just under 48 percent of people in Antigua and Barbuda voted in favor of the constitutional changes and around 45 percent of those in Grenada. The referendums required a two-thirds majority to pass.
Low turnout in both countries suggested some apathy among the populace; just one in four registered voters took part in Grenada and one in three in the twin island nation.
Both governments had campaigned heavily in favor of the CCJ, with the main opposition parties urging residents to vote against it.
The Privy Council, which has its roots in Medieval times and was once the court of last resort for the entire British Empire, has made a number of pivotal rulings in recent years. One includes deeming it unconstitutional for St Lucia to use capital punishment as the mandatory sentence for murder.
For many, ditching the Privy Council is seen as a progressive step towards greater independence by breaking age-old colonial ties. They argue that the cost of travelling to London is prohibitive while the CCJ, which travels between the region’s islands, offers greater access to justice.
Others are concerned over possible political interference in the CCJ’s operations, along with a lack of impartiality among judges from small nations, such as Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada which have just 130,000 registered voters combined.
The CCJ heard its first case in 2005. Despite several Caribbean countries declaring their intention to adopt it as their final appellate court, to date, only Dominica, Guyana, Barbados and Belize have done so.
The Privy Council remains the highest court of appeal for several other independent Commonwealth countries and the British territories.
CCJ President Adrian Saunders, who recently said it was an "embarrassment" that so much of the region still shunned the court, said he respected the two nations' decisions. He added that the exercise had seen increased public education and stimulated dialogue.
© 2018 AFP