THE Caribbean Court of Justice was established on February 14, 2001, by an agreement signed during the 2001 Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community meeting in Nassau.
The CCJ, which sits in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, operates as a final court of appeal for CARICOM member states, replacing the Privy Council, and is the highest municipal court in the region.
There were many reasons for the formation of the court primarily centring around by the perceived disconnect between the Privy Council and the culture and will of the people of Caribbean nations.
It is generally agreed that two cases hastened the formation of the CCJ. The first was the Privy Council’s ruling in the case of Morgan vs the Attorney General of Jamaica.
In its ruling, handed down in 1993, the Privy Council said that persons imprisoned on death row for more than five years should have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
This was seen by a number of people as an indication of the court’s step toward its goal of presiding over the death of capital punishment in the Caribbean, despite the fact that it is a punitive measure supported by the majority of citizens in the region.
The second ruling involved the government of Antigua and Barbuda where the Privy Council handed out a radio licence to a company without the approval or consent of Antigua’s government leaving many to conclude that the London based court could exercise too much sway over the affairs of sovereign West Indian countries.
The first case heard by the CCJ was in August 2005 and was to settle a 10 year old libel court case from Barbados.
To date, Antigua & Barbuda; Barbados; Belize; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; St Kitts & Nevis; St Lucia; Suriname; Trinidad & Tobago, Dominica and St Vincent & The Grenadines have signed the agreement.
The Bahamas, Montserrat and Haiti, though full members of CARICOM, are not yet signatories.