KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday October 28, 2015 – A letter that opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte said she had from Britain’s Privy Council, in which the panel indicated its willingness to travel to Jamaica to hear cases, has been confirmed as authentic.
But while the Senator, who was suspended from the Senate after refusing to provide a copy of the letter, used the correspondence to respond to government’s position that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is an itinerant tribunal and it would be more affordable for Jamaicans to access justice, Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said the letter actually supported government’s position that the regional court was better for Jamaica.
Last Thursday, in her contribution to the debate on Jamaica joining the CCJ, Malahoo-Forte read the unsigned letter but did not produce it as requested by Senate president Floyd Morris and was suspended until she complies.
Golding had said he was “anxious” to see the letter, and yesterday he confirmed that he had received two emails from the Privy Council in London with attached copies of two letters – a letter dated November 29, 2009 to the Privy Council from John Almeida of the London-based law firm Charles Russell, and the letter at the centre of the controversy, dated April 16, 2010 from the Registrar of the Privy Council to the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne QC.
The first letter from Almeida stated that the then government wanted to explore the possibility of a Privy Council panel travelling to Jamaica to conduct hearings on a future date, and the associated costs to see whether it was feasible to have a sitting in 2010/2011, as the government considered it “important that the country’s final Court of Appeal is seen by the citizens to be participating in the Jamaican justice system on location, albeit for a short period”.
The second letter, a response to that query, indicated a willingness to make the trip in 2011, indicating that the Jamaica government would have to bear the cost that would include, at minimum, return air fares for five judges and three staff members, five-star hotel accommodation for eight nights for the judges, and five-star hotel accommodation for 10 nights for the staffers.
It also mentioned that Jamaica would need to provide support staff and security for the visiting panel.
Golding reiterated the arrangement discussed by the former Jamaica Labour Party administration did not compare to what the CCJ offered
“Unlike the CCJ, the Privy Council is not established to operate as an itinerant court. While the Privy Council has been willing, over the past five years, occasionally to visit other countries to hear appeals, this is at a considerable cost to the host countries. Furthermore, given that the judges of the Privy Council have, as their primary duty, the hearing of domestic UK appeals in their capacity as judges of the UK Supreme Court, the scheduling of visits to other countries will need to take that into account,” he said in a statement.
“Those costly, ad hoc visiting arrangements, proposed by the last administration so that the Privy Council ‘is seen by the citizens to be participating in the Jamaican justice system on location, albeit for a short period’, do not comprise a structural arrangement at the apex of our justice system that is designed to facilitate sustained access to justice for the vast majority of the Jamaican people.
In contrast, when the five CCJ judges and their support staff visited Jamaica to hear the Shanique Myrie case, the costs of the airfare, accommodation and meals for the CCJ judges and accompanying personnel were all paid for by the CCJ itself.”
The Ministry of Justice’s records show that the government spent J$1,032,755 (US$8,649) to host the CCJ panel’s visit, which included venue rental at the Jamaica Conference Centre, close protection officers and judges’ orderlies, Internet service, toner and protocol cars.
The bulk of that expenditure – J$652,095 (US$5,461) was for the venue rental at the Jamaica Conference Centre.
But Golding’s statement said that a facility open at the Supreme Court complex in Kingston would be able to accommodate a panel of five judges, at no cost to government.
“Therefore, future visits of the CCJ to hear cases in Jamaica will involve only minimal costs to the Jamaican taxpayer,” Golding reiterated. “These are some of the reasons why the Government of Jamaica does not consider this to be an acceptable alternative to the CCJ as our final court.”
The Justice Minister urged Senators to put behind them the events that occurred during the sittings of the Senate last Thursday and Friday, and resume the debate on the three historic Bills that will, if passed, establish the CCJ as Jamaica’s final court of appeal.