Antigua to stage referendum on joining Caribbean Court of Justice this year
The Antigua and Barbuda government last Wednesday said that it intends to hold a referendum within the next four months on whether or not the island will adopt the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final court.
Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, speaking at a special sitting of the High Court to mark the retirement of Sir Dennis Byron, the second Caribbean national to serve as President of the CCJ, said that he had been given instructions by Prime Minister Gaston Browne to pursue the initiative.
“My Prime Minister (said) that within the next 120 days this country will be going to a referendum to have Antigua decide whether we should accede to the Appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice”.
“We have caught the vision …”, Benjamin said.
The CCJ was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court, but while many of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are signatories to the court’s Original jurisdiction, only Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica are members of its Appellate jurisdiction.
The CCJ also functions as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.
In 2016, the Antigua and Barbuda government had hoped that the referendum would have been held by March 2017 even as opposition legislators and others warned that citizens were not fully educated on the issue.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, in tabling the Constitutional Referendum Bill 2016 in Parliament in October 2016, urged nationals to support the initiative to replace the Privy Council even as he admitted that two-thirds support in the referendum “is a tall order”.
The government had established a committee to undertake a public relations campaign on the CCJ, but it fizzled out after a few months.
Meanwhile, former attorney general Justin Simon, speaking at the ceremony here Wednesday, said it would be prudent for all the other members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to proceed to the CCJ as a united front.
“I am delighted that Antigua and Barbuda will make yet another attempt for a referendum. Only Dominica in the OECS is part of the CCJ …in its Appellate jurisdiction,” he said, adding “it is my view that the referendum should be held not singly by each state, but it would be a better thing if all of the OECS states go together on the same day”.