Why the Privy Council?

By George Alleyne
July 08, 2009 – newsday.co.tt


PM Patrick ManningIt is as inexcusably absurd for the Office of the Prime Minister to have so much power under the Constitution with respect to the appointment of the Chief Justice, the Solicitor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions as it is for the Opposition to frustrate Trinidad and Tobago’s complete breakaway from having the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as this country’s final Court of Appeal.

There is clearly too much power vested in the Office of Prime Minister with respect to the above posts. At the same time we should have the courage to view the Opposition’s insistence on TT’s holding on to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as a disgusting colonial mindset. It is inexcusable and humiliating. Already, Guyana, a member of Caricom, has passed a law rejecting the Privy Council as the Country’s final Court of Appeal and having the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) replace it.

Other Commonwealth jurisdictions which have acted as Guyana and enacted enabling legislation have included India, Australia, Botswana, Burma, Pakistan, Canada, Cyprus, Ghana, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Tanzania. Trinidad and Tobago, hobbled by the Opposition, has, shamefully, remained with the rest of Caricom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, British colonies and Protectorates and less than a handful of, for the most part, relatively insignificant Commonwealth countries.

Burma, India and Pakistan were among the first to exercise a dignified approach, that of withdrawal from the Privy Council, an approach which has been rejected, repeatedly by TT’s Opposition.

Those opposed to withdrawal from the Privy Council have advanced as their principal arguments, the quality of the Caribbean judiciary, an illogical argument, and the imagined moves of the State to “control” the Judiciary. In the meantime, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which was established to replace the Privy Council as the Region’s final Court of Appeal remains, because of the colonial mindset, still prevailing with the Opposition, grossly underutilised.

Until the advent of retired Chief Justice, Justice Cecil Kelsick, (he was from St Kits) no Trinidad and Tobago Chief Justice, since Independence, ever had a law degree. I wish to make clear that any absence of degrees in no way lessened the competence of any TT Chief Justice, Judge, Magistrate or practising lawyer. It was not until sometime after Independence, and the opening of the Hugh Wooding Law School, that having a law degree became more or less the norm for new attorneys. Prior to that, persons wishing to study law needed only to have Cambridge Senior School Certificates, the equivalent of the GCE “O” Levels, to be admitted to any of the four English Inns of Court.

Meanwhile, steps have been taken in the United Kingdom for not only the training of Judges, but the method to be adopted with respect to their appointment. A little more than a decade ago the British Conservative Party had advanced in its manifesto for the then upcoming General Election a plan to set up a Judicial Appointments and Training Commission.

Unfortunately, shortly after the Party was victorious at the polls, and not unlike what obtains in Trinidad and Tobago, it consigned the plan to the dustbin of history. Nonetheless, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, would, publicly, declare several changes to the then method of appointment of judges. Appointments would remain as in the past, as the Lord Chancellor intimated, based “strictly on merit, after the independent views of the judiciary and the legal profession have been taken into consideration.”

This Column notes for the record two of the changes — the filing of an annual report to the British Parliament on the conducting of the mechanism of judicial appointments and the advertising of judicial vacancies. It would be interesting to see how the advice of the Lord Chancellor with respect to the appointment of judges “strictly on merit after the independent views of the judiciary and legal profession have been taken into consideration” could be applied in Trinidad and Tobago.

In this country, there has been literally no change to Sections 104 and 105 of the 1976 Republican Constitution which deal, specifically, with the appointment of Judges. In turn, the Office of the Prime Minister has too much say in the appointment of the Chief Justice.

We cannot deal with the Judiciary or indeed the Office of the Solicitor General or that of Director of Public Prosecutions as though the authority of the Prime Minister, under the Constitution, is cast in stone.

The 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago has stood still for far too long and an entirely new and in keeping with the times approach is needed.


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One thought on “Why the Privy Council?”

  1. This was a very thoughtful , fine, and long overdue article by Mr. Alleyne to address what I consider a very pressing matter that has obvious long term impact on the region , and our country in particular – in reference to costly substandard and un coordinated security in light of the growing menace of interregional crimes , and the need full independence and sovereignty of nations in the Global South such as ours.
    Of course Mr. A unfortunately you wont see 90 to 100 responses by so called outraged Trin -Canadians , Trini -Yankees, Trini -Europeans , and Trini -local Elites experts as this subject is not sexy enough and inveigle the passions and contempt that many can level at one tribe or the other , so don’t be surprise if yours truly becomes the sole voice in the wilderness speaking , unless I have temerity to ‘mash a corn,’ by poking the stellar image of a hero , or a 14th century feudal ideology that some have grown used to by virtue of Euro centric education that has long past their value in our neck of the woods.
    Pay attention as the old talk primarily by ‘political dinosaurs’ about political reform continue unabated .Listen to the callous remarks of a PM in waiting, that demands political reform to change our political system, but feels that conniving anachronistic British Law Lords should continue to decide our fate , due to the fact that he misguiding believe that it holds some unknown advantage for him and fans. One would think that someone of his close advisors would have the courage to inform him that by his remarks and attitude , he is repeatedly showing contempt for our country , constitution , judiciary and most importantly the loving people he claim to represent.

    It ‘s not me but Cyril Connolly who claimed that “Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise.
    The English logistician and philosopher Bertrand Russell opened our eyes as to one of the greatest distorted notions that we accepted in the past ,when we solely believe that the highest threat to our lives and civilize existence are the numerous illiterate fools that confronts us daily. He thinks otherwise , and I tend to agree with him when he said ,“We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.”
    How else can one explain such utter stupidity in thought , words , deeds and actions. In 1990 a two bit ex cop , and alleged Muslim leader with is brands of thugs almost destroyed our entire democracy , with his imbecilic and ghastly behaviors, and it’s only two months ago our ‘British saviors’ finally decided to make a long overdue ruling in our favor- at exorbitant cost one might add. In the mean time the conniving rascals made a decisive conclusion in 10 seconds when British Heiress Gail Ann Benson was murdered by Michael X many moons ago. How pathetic ! These much adored British masters were way ahead of the game , as we daily see how much Neo Colonialism is alive and kicking in our country, as idea deficient leaders compete to see who should ‘rule the roost!’
    For the record, UNC vs PNM ,same difference. Future Prime Minister Hazel Manning vs Mickela Panday, same kaki pants. Lord put a hand!

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