Cries of Discrimination against Indians & Amerindians at CCJ

Cries of Discrimination against Indians & Amerindians at CCJ

Photo : Dennis Byron

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), headquartered in Trinidad, celebrated its 13th anniversary last April 16 since its inauguration in 2005. There are widespread cries of  discrimination against Indians, Amerindians, and others who are almost invisible in empty at the regional court. The composition of the court is not dissimilar to what once existed in the USA and U.K where Blacks and other minorities had faced judicial inequality and racial persecution. While White America and England have taken corrective measures against racial discrimination balancing their courts, Caricom is institutionalizing racism against Indians and other minorities. Can the CCJ be trusted to grant justice to those groups that are discriminated against by the court itself or by Caricom itself?

It is noted that although based in Trinidad ( a multi-ethnic state), T&T is not a member of and as such not under the legal jurisdiction of the CCJ. But T&T contributes the bulk of the funding of the body. As in the case of Guyana, CCJ does not reflect the societal make of T&T.

When the CCJ was set up in 2005, it was the understanding that the judicial body would replace the British Privy Council as the final court of appeal. But fears were expressed about separating the territories from the neutral British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) as the final appellate court. Many lawyers of the region don’t view Caribbean judges as possessing the requisite erudition and independence to adjudicate on issues. There were concerns the local judges would be influenced by domestic politics. Many also feel the local judges would not be ethnically and color blind given the history of ethnic and color conflict in the region – especially in Guyana and Trinidad. In these two racially divided countries, politics, and by extension legal issues, is defined by ethnicity. And jurisprudence is not known to be racially neutral. Not surprisingly, only four Caricom territories (Dominica, Belize, Barbados, and Guyana) are subjected to its appellate jurisdiction. The others lack faith in it. And of the four that subscribes to the CCJ, none adopted the path of referendum to join as was originally intended before its came into existence. People in those four territories are also opposed to the CCJ. They prefer the Privy Council but their governments would not allow them a vote.

Another expectation of the CCJ was that personnel were expected to reflect the population of the region. Its composition of judges and staff are supposed to represent the pluralistic nature (or diversity of population) of the region. Instead, the opposite has occurred. Indians, Amerindians and other indigenous people are underrepresented or not represented at all (as in the latter two ethnic groups). And Indians, for example, who constitute some quarter of the region’s population, make up only 2% of the staff of the CCJ.  Almost half of Guyana’s population is Indians and another 10% Amerindians. But there have been no Indian or Amerindian judges. In Addition, no Indo-Guyanese or Amerindian has been employed by the CCJ. Trinidad’s population is some 40% Indians but not a single judge is of Indo-Trini extraction. And only aa handful of the staff are of Indo-Trini background. It has been noted that half of the lawyers in the Caribbean are of Indian descent, but not even one lawyer has been employed as a staff member of the CCJ. There is one Indian lawyer (a Trini) who is a member of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.

Since its formation in April 2005, not a single Indian has been appointed a judge. So how does the management of the CCJ or the regional governments of Caricom expect Indians, Amerindians and other natives to have faith and confidence in the judicial body to render impartial justice? Even in the US, where there is de facto racism over the last fifty years, and de jure racism before that, Blacks and Hispanics have representation in American’s highest court (of 11% each – proximate percentage of their composition in the U.S population); Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and native Americans are also fairly represented amongst the staff of the Supreme court as well as in the judicial system. Why can't the CCJ have balance like courts in the US and U.K.?

Politicians tend to glorify the CCJ. But they have not addressed the basic issues relating to the body. Contrary to what some political leaders feel, the CCJ cannot be viewed as “an enlightened body or a success of collective governance”. It is a regional failure and a disgrace because it is not representative of the region’s population.

The CCJ is not being seen as dispensing fair justice since the judges are not representative of the diversity of the population. There have been many complaints about it. It is a laughing stock among Queens and Senior Counsels in the region. It is for this reason, they don’t wish to appear before the CCJ. And in opinion polls in Guyana and Trinidad, overwhelming majorities of the population have no faith in the CCJ. In fact, majorities of the population in the entire region have little faith in the CCJ. Almost every Indian and Amerindian has no faith in the CCJ to give them justice. For Indians and Amerindians, the CCJ is not blind. It is seen as ethnically biased. Indo-Guyanese feel the CCJ has not been racially neutral in its rulings.

One person correctly pointed out that the absence of confidence in the CCJ is justified based on the kind of rulings it rendered and the politicization and lack of objectivity amongst some judges. It was noted in a recent article that there is an incestuous relationship amongst some judges and governments. Judges don’t recuse themselves when there is a conflict of interest involving them; they lack the integrity and tradition of British judges of the Privy Council to stay away from cases where there is a conflict. The Guyanese assistant, Richard Layne, to CCJ President Sir Dennis Byron is the grandson of James Patterson who was the lawyer that helped to prepare the third term appeal before the CCJ.

With there being a lack of confidence in the CCJ over the issue of fairness and because of a lack of ethnic equity, the time has come to disband the body and return all territories to the Privy Council fir fair justice or for the CCJ to be ethnically balanced in the composition of staff and judges. Will Sir Dennis Byron address this complaint? If racist America and UK can be reformed, why can't the Caribbean?