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Taking the CCJ to the people
Last week’s determination by the Caribbean Court of Justice to hear the case of a Jamaican woman, Shanique Myrie, against the Government of Barbados can serve to have the CCJ seen to be a meaningful institution in the lives of Caricom nationals.
Ms Myrie petitioned the CCJ to hear her claim that she was discriminated against by Barbados immigration authorities, as she was subjected to an unfair and degrading search of her private parts and subsequently denied her right to stay in Bar- bados for legal purposes.
The establishment of the CCJ in 2005 has been attended by controversy and uncertainty about its capability as a final court of appeal. Self-doubt about the ability of Carib-bean jurists to have the final say on matters and the comfort that large numbers of people in the region find in being under the jurisdiction of the British Privy Council have raised doubts.
Governments, people, institutions and the establishment of national legal frameworks to facilitate the move to the CCJ will eventually determine whether the CCJ is the final court of appeal for all member states—or whether Caribbean people will continue to fall back on colonial institutions in the belief that others know better how the region should be governed.
However, in the meantime, the decision by the CCJ that it will sit in the Myrie case, in its original jurisdiction, as the court for the Single Market and Economy, is significant, because in doing so the court will be allowing an individual citizen to bring legal action against a state.
The decision is even more important because of the fact that it is a national of another country that is being allowed to challenge one of the most important aspects of state governance, that being the actions of the immigration authorities of Barbados against a Jamaican.
As a result of this decision, people in the region will realise they have not been left out of the CCJ’s jurisdiction and it is not merely states and corporate businesses that can contest against each other when they think they have been subjected to an abuse of state power.
In the battles of such vast and impersonal entities, the average citizen displays little interest. Perhaps the exception is when insular considerations take centre stage and nationals of one Caricom country feel they and their country are being challenged or denied the privilege to assert sovereignty.
Further, the decision to hear the case of Ms Myrie is an indication that Caricom arrangements and institutions are alive, at least with respect to the legal infrastructure of the community.
This case is one of the right of the individual even against the “big, bad” state to have rights and, most crucially, to be able to pursue those rights in open court. Whatever the outcome, the case will surely bring the reality home to the people of the region that they have a mechanism which can be used to pursue their rights.
Win, lose or draw, Ms Myrie’s case will focus the attention of people on the CCJ; and maybe, just maybe, the people of the region in those states which have not recognised the CCJ as their final court of appeal will begin to understand that this regional institution is not a distant, abstract concept but has a personal significance for them.
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