The stakes are high.
The historical significance of Jamaica joining the Caribbean Court of Justice, CCJ, as its final court of appeal cannot be overstated. 180 years of Jamaica taking its cases to the Privy Council in England could stop under the leadership of one political party– a move headed by Jamaica’s present Justice Minister, Mark Golding.
No doubt the People’s National Party administration, PNP, recognizes that this moment will be written in the annals of history with some detail and it wants to be party on which history will write favorably.
There is no great urgency for Jamaica to leave the Privy Council and join the CCJ, as contrary to parliamentary submissions – Jamaicans are not now being denied access to justice because the Privy Council is our final court of appeal.
In fact there are thousands upon thousands of cases waiting to be tried either in Magistrates Courts or the Supreme Court here in Jamaica at the moment. Some of those cases have been delayed for shamefully long and unpardonable years. People’s lives have been stopped waiting for simple matters to be disposed of, let alone appealed! It can be objectively argued that the greatest denial of access to justice for Jamaicans is taking place right here in Jamaica.
The stakes are apparently so high that the administration is seemingly so caught up in the potential historical value of acceding to the CCJ that it has lost sight of what it needs to do in the present to make the vote a reality.
Why do I say this?
For the bills bringing the CCJ into being to be passed, at least one Opposition Senator must feel sufficiently moved by persuasive arguments or by a bite of conscience to vote ‘yea’ with the 13 Government Senators. That Opposition member cannot merely abstain. Abstention in our parliament is a powerful message but in this instance it would not be powerful enough to get the CCJ Bills passed. Nothing short of an outright vote is needed. That means the Government Senators must get at least one Opposition Senator to cooperate with them.
Cooperation should mean that the Government Senators would present highly persuasive arguments so that the choice is so clear that at least one right thinking member of the Opposition could vote ‘yes’. Cooperation would mean allowing the Opposition Senators to make submissions in the CCJ debate, without any angry objection, coming from any member of the government. If there is disagreement with the presentation of any Opposition Senator, cooperation should mean awaiting the rebuttal to delicately point out the difference of views.
But this is not what has happened in the Senate.
What the Government Senators led by Mark Golding and AJ Nicholson have done is to allow the small things to override the large end game. What was so offensive about Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte’s statement about the process making a “mockery of the constitution” such that Senator Golding requested an immediate withdrawal of her statement?
That statement or that coinage is not Marlene Malahoo-Forte’s. If one reads the Privy Council decision which challenged the manner in which the 3 Bills were brought in 1998, one will see at paragraph 12 where the Privy Council says:
“Adopting the language of Viscount Simonds …Dr Barnett said it would make a mockery of the constitution if the safeguards entrenched to ensure the integrity of the legal process in Jamaica could be circumvented by creating a superior court enjoying no such constitutional protection…” (my emphasis)
That submission was accepted by the Privy Council in that it ruled that Dr. Barnett was right and the procedure the then government used was wrong. At the time Dr. Barnett made that submission to the Privy Council, no one clobbered him about it. The lawyers for the government responded by submitting in reply that he was wrong.
So it should have been in the Senate. Disagree strongly with Senator Malahoo-Forte’s statement if you must but why ask for a withdrawal of her statement?
That moment commenced the spiraling of the Senate out of control. There was the threat of sanction by the Senate President, Floyd Morris, followed by Senator Malahoo-Forte’s refusal to withdraw the statement – then a sanction, then a change of heart about the sanction and then a carrying over of Thursday’s events into Friday 23rd October, 2015.
What we now have is a Senate that has actively participated into bringing itself into disrepute and the stalling of the debate on the CCJ Bills.