As the Caribbean Court of Justice ruling against Barbados continues to resound across the nation, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has expressed fears that it may open the island to criminals from other territories.
According to him, CCJ’s recent binding decision that CARICOM nationals can enter sister territories for an automatic six-month stay, can see his island flooded with “non-working people of ill-intent,” who he said include, “that criminal element that has been stalking the Caribbean and causing us no ends of problems”.
Stuart’s comments Sunday, came four days after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago visited Barbados and announced that her country is not ready to become a member of the CCJ.
Persad-Bissessar went to the island on October 10 as guest speaker at the Distinguished Lecture Series for Alumni of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, from where she graduated in 1985.
Responding to a question by Trinidadian UWI graduate student, Christine Lange, on why her country has no confidence in the CCJ as its court of last resort, the prime minister said that was not so, and explained there are many divergent views on whether it should take up CCJ membership.
“It is a political issue,” Persad-Bissessar sad. “It is not one we felt as politicians we should take on our own”.
Her further comments however showed that the CCJ is favoured by the current government: “Recently, I tried to do a partial accession to the CCJ,” she said. “I went to the CARICOM heads and I requested to do it on a phased basis. That was rejected, so we continue to try.”.
Persad-Bissessar made it clear that becoming a member of the CCJ was more a question of when, not if.
“The time will come,” she said. “When the time is right we will have it. But as I say, it is a very political issue for Trinidad and Tobago at this time.”
The statements by these two regional leaders point to a conundrum faced across the region as efforts are made at CARICOM Heads of Government level to embrace the 12 island territories and three continental states as a single cultural and economic zone, while dancing to the tune of the local electorate in each jurisdiction.”
Though agreed to by the 15 states of CARICOM more than a decade ago, only Barbados, Belize and Guyana have enacted laws recognizing the CCJ as the final court of jurisdiction, replacing the British Privy Council. Member states are left to independently decide whether to accede to this court and make it the common place of last legal across the region.
The Barbados and Trinidad prime ministers’ comments came against the backdrop of a CCJ landmark October 4, decision against Barbados for turning away in 2011 a Jamaican visitor who was sent back on a plane after being detained overnight at the airport, where the woman, Shanique Myrie, said she was finger-raped, and the court agreed.
In a ruling that is binding with no recourse to all CARICOM member states, the CCJ justices made clear that in accordance with the revised Treaty of Chagauramas, each of those countries are bound by law to grant visitors from sister territories an automatic six-month entry permit. Such entry can be denied only if border officials determine that the visitor poses a criminal threat or has no reasonable means of supporting himself while in the territory.
In such instances, however, that decision with reasons must be put in writing, and the visitor has rights that include being allowed to call a lawyer or friend in the territory.
After the ruling Barbados Attorney General, Adriel Brathwaite, expressed concern about the amount of mandatory time to be given to a CARICOM visitor.
“We would look at the judgment, as I said, and make a determination [on] any changes we would have to make to our policy and procedures,” he said resignedly,
CCJ Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson was forthright: “It is a court decision and we are bound to follow it. Litigation creates winners and losers, and we are duty-bound to follow it”.
While reaction by these two of the island’s foremost legal minds has been to the effect that it is a fait accompli and that now is the time to get on with implementation of the ruling, views across Barbados appear to have been split down the middle.
“I think it is a brilliant judgment and a watershed in the region’s development,” said leading Barbadian and Caribbean pollster, Peter Wickham. “It will force all the Caribbean governments to rethink their attitude that they have to persons visiting the country.”
“No true Barbadian enjoyed last weekend,” declared columnist Richard Hoad in reference to the Friday, October 4 day of the judgment. “As soon as you get ‘mandatory’ and remove a people’s right to control their destiny, you are looking for trouble,” he said.
What is clear is that this is a new era for CARICOM citizens, who are now free to travel about the region without fear of rejection. It is now left to governments of the12 member countries – including Persad-Bissessar’s Trinidad – to wise-up and realise that as is the case of this ruling, decisions of the CCJ will have an impact on them whether they sign on or not.