ST GEORGE’S, Grenada, Wednesday October 7, 2018 – Citizens of Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda voted yesterday to keep the UK Privy Council as their countries’ final of appeal, overwhelmingly rejecting the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its replacement.
While a two-thirds majority of voters was needed to approve the move, not even a simple majority was obtained in each country.
In Grenada, where the failed referendum was the second in as many years, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell expressed disappointment and said it was his final time trying to get the island to vote in favour of the Trinidad-based CCJ.
“I will not initiate another attempt at this issue as Prime Minister of the country. I hold very dearly to this particular position,” he said after the defeat.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne expressed a similar sentiment as he noted the impact the failure of the referendum in his country would have on future constitutional reforms—a situation he said was his biggest disappointment.
“It is unlikely that my government will, in the circumstances and in the absence of political maturity and magnanimity pursue any further constitutional reform in the near future,” he said.
The turnout for the referendum in Grenada was particularly low, with Supervisor of Elections Alex Phillip reporting that only 28 per cent of registered voters participated. Of the 22,098 people who cast ballots, 45.05 per cent (9,846) voted for the change; 54.39 per cent (12,133) voted to remain with the Privy Council; and there were 119 rejected ballots.
In 2016, Grenadians voted of 9,492 in favour and 12,434 against several pieces of constitutional reform legislation, including a bill that would give the nod to the CCJ.
Prime Minister Mitchell had been hoping for a much different result this time around, and after casting his ballot yesterday morning, said he was quietly confident he could get it. After the preliminary results were released late in the evening, he said he was “disappointed but…in total acceptance of the results”.
“The people have voted based on what they wished to see. As a serious Democrat it has been accepted. I am not happy with it, but that has always been my position when results of elections are given,” the Prime Minister said.
“I am very clear in my conscience that I did the right thing that I firmly believe the CCJ is in fact the court that should be dealing with our final judicial system in the region and I have no doubt that history will prove me right.”
The voter turnout for the referendum in Antigua was slightly higher at 33.5 per cent. About 47.96 per cent (8,509) voted to go with the CCJ and the remaining 52.04 per cent (9,234) chose to retain the Privy Council.
“We knew that getting 67 per cent of the votes was an extremely daunting task, practically unachievable without the support of the main opposition party,” a disappointed Prime Minister Browne said.
The opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) had urged its supporters to vote conscience, but Browne said “the support of the opposition was very important to mitigate against the natural inclination of electors to vote no in a referendum.”
He said he was satisfied that his government had discharged its responsibility by making the option available to the people of Antigua and Barbuda to make justice available to all at the highest level “and to bring our final court to the Caribbean”.
Yesterday’s results mean that Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana remain the only Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that have acceded to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.