MonaLaw, Norman Manley and Hugh Wooding Law Schools’ Alumni Class of ‘97 host discussion on the CCJ becoming Jamaica’s Apex Court


On the evening of Thursday 19, October 2023, The UWI Mona Faculty of Law partnered with The Norman Manley and Hugh Wooding Law School’s Alumni, Class of 1997, with support from the Caribbean Court of Justice Academy to present a reasoning event.

The event featured legal experts from across the region in purposeful, honest and thoughtful discussion about the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and whether it should become Jamaica’s final appellate court. The event was hosted at The Faculty of Law’s Lecture Theatre II at Mona.

The thematic event was titled, Public Reasoning about the Caribbean Court of Justice: In Search of Deeper Regional Integration, as the Circle of Independence Continues to Close. It was chaired by Class of 97 alum, and Executive VP of Legal and Corporate Services, NCB Financial Group, Mr. Dave Garcia. Mr Garcia opened the event with a moment of silence in memory of Mrs. Susanne Fflokes-Goldson, former Interim Dean, who passed on 2 October 2023, and who taught most of the Class of 97 at The UWI. 

The discourse was apolitical, a sentiment echoed by esteemed attendees. Among those in attendance was the Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the Honourable Marlene Malahoo Forte, who, in her remarks to the packed Lecture Theatre, noted that Jamaica is on its path to becoming a republic and will have to answer questions surrounding a final court of appeal.

Other notable attendees included members from both sides of the political isles and from the legal profession, including Mr. Emile Leiba, Past President of the Jamaican Bar Association (JBA), who also brought remarks and endorsed the wider access to justice for all Jamaicans, and member of the Constitutional Reform Committee, and pre-eminent jurist, the Honourable Mr. Hugh Small KC.

Mr Leiba underscored that the cost of litigation in the Privy Council was prohibitive for the average Jamaican, that there was a problem of access based on visa restrictions for travel to the United Kingdom. Against this background, he reaffirmed the JBA’s support for adoption of the CCJ as Jamaica’s final court of appeal.  

Keynote speaker, Mr. Justice Winston Anderson, of the CCJ, delivered an eye-opening presentation that included facts and figures that demonstrate the efficacy of the CCJ since its first decision in 2005.

Justice Anderson cited a move to the CCJ by Jamaica as one that would support ‘deeper regional integration’ and he implied that closer proximity of the CCJ secured freedom of movement within and could result in more cases being heard and decisions issued with shorter wait times than is currently experienced with the Privy Council. In a direct comparison of appeals heard between 2016- 2021, the Privy Council completed 20 opinions in matters from Jamaica while the CCJ completed 43 cases from Barbados, 28 from Belize and 52 from Guyana – Barbados notably having a 320% increase of cases heard by the CCJ than when they relied on the Privy Council over a similar time period in the past.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion moderated by Interim Dean of the Faculty of Law at Mona, and Class of 1997 alum, Dr Christopher Malcolm, who fielded questions and commentary both for and against the CCJ becoming Jamaica’s final court of appeal.

The evening’s centrepiece panel discussion featured as discussants Class of 1997 Alums, former Attorney General for Belize Mrs. Magali Marin-Young and King’s Counsel Larry Smith. King’s Counsel, The Hon. Mr. B. St. Michael Hylton, and recent graduate of the Norman Manley Law School, and Called and Committed Class of 97 Scholar, Ms. Shaqkeera Douglas, who presented cross sectional perspectives from the profession.  

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Marin-Young, said “I don’t think there is any Belizean to date that has any regrets of us joining the CCJ. I can only speak of pluses, because that has been our experience.” She went on to cite national pride and dignity as the impetus to join while noting that the Privy counsel’s decisions for the region did not have the ‘depth and rigor’ of analysis as the CCJ’s and reiterated the point of accessibility, saying “it makes no sense for you to have a final court with the best legal minds in the United Kingdom, if that court is unreachable.” She also emphasized the importance of lived experience in deciding legislation for a locale or region.

The Hon. Mr. B. St. Michael Hylton, raised the topic of appeals as of right, highlighting the recent practice of the Privy Council to use of a single judge as early determinant in most cases, as opposed to the CCJ’s three-judge quorum. He also cited a decrease from 20 cases being heard last year (2022) to only three (3), being scheduled for hearing this year (2023) by the Privy Council. Mr Hylton used these and other examples to reinforce the position that access to Justice for Jamaicans would be improved by a move to the CCJ, a thought echoed by Ms. Shaqkeera Douglas, who also emphasized national pride and sovereignty as driving forces.

Bringing the youth perspective, Ms. Shaqkeera Douglas, stated that in her interactions with colleagues and other young people, there is a sense of eagerness to have the CCJ as Jamaica’s apex court. She highlighted two of the major reasons being efficiency and cost effectiveness. “We are doing ourselves a disservice having contributed so much to a court that we are not using in its original jurisdiction, they (young people) are eager to see us move into that direction,” she stated. Another reason she shared in the discourse was that young people do not see the sense in having to obtain a visa to get justice, while noting that a visa is not as of right and can be denied. 

In tackling the counter arguments against the CCJ, which imply that proximity would mean less accountability, King’s Counsel, Mr. Larry Smith, rubbished this reservation held by many as ‘hogwash’. He posited the questions, “What are we saying about ourselves? Is it that we can’t stand in judgement of ourselves?” He pointed out that the Jamaican taxpayer, along with other members of CARICOM, pay into a Trust Fund that sustains the Court. He further highlighted the missed opportunity for the nation by paying into a system, (the Privy Council), that average Jamaicans cannot access. He closed with the quote, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”    

Without doubt, the discussion will continue to rage on as Jamaica marches towards becoming a republic. All of the speakers, despite their differences in life and legal experience, all seemed to agree, that the CCJ through its demonstrable attention to detail and diligence to regional issues, the proximity, cost, speed and more frequent resolutions to matters and no visa requirements for CARICOM members, will be of benefit to Jamaica, if it is acceded to as final court of appeal.