Belize ascribed to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in 2010 as the final appellate court, and has so far sent 29 cases to its seat in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. It is one of only three Caribbean countries to do so, Barbados and Guyana being the others.
With the fifth anniversary of its joining coming this year, the Bar Association of Belize this week hosted CCJ’s president, Sir Dennis Byron, in Belize for a round of consultations with senior legal, judicial and government officials. Scheduled in between those meetings was a rare sit down with the press on Friday morning, where all subjects save discussion of actual cases before the Court was in play.
Sir Dennis reported on progress in the region to expand accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the Court, with several countries expected to make decisions shortly.
“It’s a matter with interest to us to welcome all of the other countries. We are ready. We are equipped, and our staff complement is adequate, to receive cases from alll CARICOM member states.
We understand that various issues are being addressed in different countries. We know, for example, that Dominica has already passed all of the Constitutional requirements to join the [CCJ], and their waiting currently on the President to sign the document which states the date when this legislation will come into effect.
We’re aware the Grenada has scheduled to have a referendum within the next month. I think the date has already been announced for sometime in February.”
The Court is not prepared to intervene on its own behalf, leaving the political questions to the various legislatures, but it has been kept quite busy, particularly with Belizean cases that have allowed the court to spread its wings and set regional jurisprudence.
Sir Dennis Byron
“It’s very interesting that there has been already a significant amount of litigation in the [CCJ}, and a number of very important judicial and legal issues have been determined by our Court.
Belize, as you know, has been one of the leaders. We’ve had 29 cases from Belize already, which have been completed, and they have encompassed a fairly wide range of important legal and judicial issues.
We’ve had 151 cases in all. The others have come from Barbados and Guyana, touching on many important issues of jurisprudence. So the Court has already been discharging its functions, and even in relation to the countries which have not come aboard yet, we are aware that some of the decision we have taken are being used in the jurisdictions which have not yet come aboard.”
Sir Dennis Byron also revealed that the Court is in talks to have its first-ever sitting in Belize by the middle of this year.
He also commented on the seeming disregard by Caribbean nations for the dissemination of the Court’s judgments. He said that even if only to foster the regional sense of togetherness, the press should take advantage of the resources available to them on the court’s website and help the Court fulfill its mission.
Sir Dennis Byron
“On our website you’ll see every judgment. It has a judgment. It has executive summary, and then we also write a short press release.
What we notice that in every country people only publish those issues in relation to cases from their own country.
So we have tried to disseminate information about the Court in that way, but somehow or the other the press don’t seem interested in writing up about issues which don’t affect their own country.
For example, when I was invited to participate in this Conference, to answer questions which you might have, it seemed to me a good opportunity to address issues and concerns which you might have., but which you might not have had any other means of getting information about. So I came here with that objective, provide information about the work of our Court.”
The Court’s opening session for 2015, which begins on Tuesday, features hearings at its seat on the BTL and BEL nationalizations on January 23, concerning submissions on the issue of remedies.
On January 22 the court will hear the appeal of Belize Natural Energy and Maranco Limite;, and on January 21 case management is scheduled for the original jurisdiction case of Maurice Tomlinson, who is suing Belize and Trinidad and Tobago over laws banning homosexuals from entering either country.