ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Wednesday August 31, 2016 – Will Antigua and Barbuda ditch the UK Privy Council and replace it with Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the country’s final criminal and civil appeals court? That question won’t be answered until early next year – months after Prime Minister Gaston Browne wanted it to be.
After initially announcing in Parliament yesterday that October 27 this year would be the date for a referendum on the issue, Browne heeded an appeal from Opposition Leader Baldwin Spencer to push back the vote. It will now be held by March 2017.
Spencer, who preceded Browne as Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, had argued that more time was needed to convince citizens that the Trinidad-based CCJ was the better option for the twin-island nation.
He warned that if the vote was rushed, the answer might not be what government was hoping for, and insisted that a public education campaign which began in March should continue a bit longer.
A two-thirds majority “yes” vote in the referendum is required for the switch to the CCJ.
“I would like to move to the CCJ tomorrow,” said Spencer who reaffirmed his support for the move. “But you have to have the people with you, and if you’re setting mechanisms in place, consulting, and getting the people on board, you need time,” he added, warning that if the public’s perception was that the government was “pushing the question down the throat of the people” those opposed to the CCJ would only “harden their positions”.
Prime Minister Browne subsequently agreed to giving time for further consultations and urged the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) to use the opportunity to get more of its members and supporters on board with the move.
Currently, Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana are the only Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that have accepted the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, although 12 of CARICOM’s 15 member states have signed on to the court’s original jurisdiction which deals with interpreting and applying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that established CARICOM.
Grenada is scheduled to have its referendum on the issue on the same date Browne had initially announced. He told Parliament that while government had previously thought of holding it on October 20, before Grenada announced October 27 as its referendum date, it had been advised that it would have been good for both to happen on the same date, so the result of one would not influence the other.