The Opposition has cast doubt on the legality of Government’s decision to abolish the Privy Council as the final court of appeal for criminal matters and replace it with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the Government’s intention in Parliament on Wednesday. She said the Privy Council would be retained only for civil matters. But former foreign affairs minister Paula Gopee-Scoon and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley questioned the legality of the move. Gopee-Scoon, in a telephone interview, said the decision was in breach of Article 19 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties. She said the article provides for any reservations to agreements, including the CCJ agreement, to be done at the time of “signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty.”
Dr Rowley, in a statement yesterday, said Article 28 of the CCJ agreement provided for the appellate jurisdiction as a whole. He said: “If the Government seeks to carve out criminal matters, it may need to enter a reservation in respect of that article.” He agreed with Gopee-Scoon, saying: “This is a matter that could only have been done at the time of signing, ratification or accession to the agreement. “Our advice is that the time for entering such a reservation has long passed, since it is now ten years too late.” Dr Rowley said the provision “for reservation, but with consent of the contracting parties, cannot now apply.” Dr Rowley added: “Under the circumstances, we urge the Government to replace the Privy Council altogether with the Caribbean Court of Justice.” He said the Opposition People’s National Movement “reaffirms its commitment to this development and stands ready and eager to support the appropriate legislation which will bring this about.”
Dr Rowley also said criminal law matters could easily become intertwined with constitutional law issues in the determination of a criminal case. He said in those circumstances the Government must say “whether it is contemplating that the Caribbean Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction to determine constitutional questions in such matters.” He added: “Until this is clarified, we can only conclude that what the Government has proposed, while desirable, may not be sufficient, workable or lawful.” Dr Rowley said T&T had a leadership role within Caricom and “we further encourage the Government not to create any legal conundrum out of this moment of supreme satisfaction to all the people of T&T and the region who anxiously awaited this completion of our independence.” Attorney General Anand Ramlogan could not be reached for comment yesterday. Foreign Affairs and Communications Minister Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, when asked about the issue yesterday, said he was unable to comment and would have to look at it. He said the Prime Minister and Ramlogan were expected to make further statements on the matter in a few days.