Today is an historic day in Dominica!!
For today, we take a step that makes the people of the Commonwealth of Dominica the first in the Eastern Caribbean to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Against this background, it is my pleasure, on behalf of the Government and people of Dominica, to extend a gracious welcome to all of you, for joining us in this historic ceremony.
I am especially thankful to the President of the Court and his fellow judges for responding positively to our invitation to join us for today`s event. Your esteemed presence here, your Lordships, allows our citizens to see, in the most tangible of ways, that with this move, further access to justice comes within the scope and reality of the ordinary Dominican citizen.
This may seem a trite observation to some, but, the reality of making more accessible and more affordable, a second appellate process, deepens the rights guaranteed by our Constitution, as well as make us more attractive to foreign investment; for whom access to the resolution of disputes and the rule of law, remains critical.
I would like to thank you, Sir Dennis, for your perceptive and stimulating remarks. You have reinforced our conviction that the court is in capable, experienced and wise judicial hands. Indeed, you will forgive me for noting that it is entirely appropriate that, as a son of the Eastern Caribbean, you should be the President of the Court, as our country becomes the first state from the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States to accede to appellate jurisdiction of the Court.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, friends, it was easy for us to identify a feature speaker for this occasion. Dr. Francis Alexis currently heads Grenada`s Constitution Reform Committee; he is a former lecturer in law at the University of the West indies Cave Hill campus and has served as Attorney General in Grenada. Dr. Alexis has straddled platforms in politics, academia, government, legal practice and consultancy. He has authored the seminal work “ Changing Caribbean Constitutions”. This is an essential area of study for all Commonwealth Caribbean States that have had, after a generation of independence, to reflect on how best they may perfect their constitutional and governance arrangements for the benefit of the development of our societies.
One respected Grenadian lawyer has described Dr. Alexis as a truly remarkable and iconic Grenadian son. I would go further and assert that he is truly a remarkable and iconic Caribbean citizen. This has been borne out by the quality of his presentation; a discourse that reflected an enviable depth of legal scholarship and practical experience in the law, but also a true connection to the needs of ordinary Caribbean people.
I invite you to join me in registering our deep appreciation and thanks to Dr. Alexis for his erudite contribution here today.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the road that has led us to this day has been paved with the ambivalence that some of our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean continue to wrestle with, in the search for full constitutional independence.
In some respects, many of us were drawn to reflect on the spirited exchanges on the pros and cons of political independence that filled political circles, as well as our region`s media spaces, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Political independence is now a settled matter and is often taken for granted in most of our territories.
When the Dominica flag was raised on the night of November 3, 1978, symbolizing the birth of a new and independent nation, there was an ongoing debate between the two dominant political parties of the day.
The nation`s first Prime Minister, Patrick Roland John, embraced Independence and saw it as a path to self-determination and a catalyst to national development. Mary Eugenia Charles, then Leader of the Opposition, compared the country to a person setting out on a journey with a few basic supplies from its colonial past. She expressed concern about the maintenance of democracy and the rule of law in the new nation.
We have come a long way since then. But the seed that would eventually blossom into today`s symbol of constitutional independence, in my view, was planted by the one who is widely regarded as the father of this nation, Edward Oliver Leblanc! He was a true nationalist; he taught us how to be proud of our Dominican heritage, our culture, song, dance and folklore. He was in his time, at the forefront of the action for our region to pull away from the shoestrings of the Mother Country.
He was there in London at a conference attempting to save the West Indian Federation by the creation of “The Little Eight”; following the withdrawal of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
In 1966, he was also there at the Lancaster House Conference to make Dominica a self-governing Associated State. He was the inspiration that gave birth to a number of nationalist songs such as Pas Kité Yo Pon Dominique Hod Nou and Dominica The Land of Beauty.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is therefore no coincidence that the Dominica Labour Party, the party over which Mr. Leblanc exercised a profound and lasting influence, has led the charge for full constitutional independence for Dominica.
Your Excellencies and Your Lordships, fellow Dominicans, I am honored and humbled to be the one leading our country at this historic moment.
I have in the past argued that our country could not be truly independent, if its final Court of Appeal was a court located in London; thousands of miles and tens of thousands of dollars away from the access of ordinary Dominicans.
We complete today, that third and final declaration of our sovereignty. We build today on the two earlier steps; our political independence and our determination that our Head of State must be a citizen of our fair land.
Let me remind you that we started this process with our request of the British Government for a “no objection“, to delink from the Privy Council, as Dominica`s final appellate court. Having received this favourable response in January 2014, we avoided the need to proceed by way of a Referendum.
The way was open to introduce a motion in Parliament for amending the Constitution, to recognize the Caribbean Court of Justice, as our final Appellate Court. To secure this outcome, we needed the support of three quarters of the elected members of Parliament.
This was achieved on Tuesday July 1, 2014.
And hence, here we are today.
Next month, on April 16th will be the tenth anniversary of this august Caribbean Court. There is no doubt that the early fears of it being established as a “hanging Court”, to fend off the consequences of the ruling of the Privy Council in Pratt and Morgan, were ill founded. The body of Caribbean jurisprudence developed thus far, attests to the wisdom displayed by the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in signing the Agreement on February 14th, 2001 to facilitate the establishment of this Court.
I am not an Attorney-at-Law but I travel the region widely. The commentary from those who have been following its work in its appellate jurisdiction, especially in Barbados and Guyana, and more recently in Belize, reinforce in our minds why this is the right, and necessary, step for our country.
We are already aware of the difference the Court has made in its original jurisdiction, in protecting the rights of our citizens under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. This was most evidently seen in the wide publication of, and the judgment, in the Shanique Myrie case against the civil authorities in Barbados, where a citizen of Jamaica sought to assert the rights conferred on her, as the region moved to establish the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
This brings me to my next point.
While we accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice today, it is imperative that my Government undertakes a Public Education exercise, so that all of our citizens may be aware of their rights with this accession to the Court’s appellate jurisdiction.
We must know for what matters there will be an automatic right to appeal to the CCJ and for what other matters they must first seek leave from the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.
While persons may readily access advice from their Attorneys-at-Law, it is always better when they do so against a background of information that is freely available to all.
Fellow citizens and residents of Dominica, there are very few actions we take as a Government that have no immediate financial consequences. This is one where we have paid forward our dues. On the inauguration of the Court, the Heads of Government of the region established a Trust Fund, which is managed by an independent body of Trustees, to ensure that the income of the Trust would support the recurring budget of the Court. We therefore would have made our contribution to the Trust Fund some ten years ago.
The foresight in the settlement of these financial arrangements is now celebrated across the democratic world, for it insulated the Court from having to go cap in hand to make the annual request of funds from the various Governments of the region. It is this annual request of budgetary support that has regrettably been used in some parts of the world, along with the control of the appointments to the judiciary, to improperly influence the decisions of courts in other regions.
Our citizens need not have any such fear, for the Regional Judicial Legal Services Commission appoints all of the Justices of Appeal, with the exception of the President, for whose appointment there must be unanimous agreement by ALL Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, signatory to the Treaty establishing the Court. Indeed, the Regional Judicial Legal Services Commission is comprised mainly of representatives of the regional private sector and regional civil society, including, of note, representatives from the Bar association of the OECS and a representative of the OECS Secretariat.
As I indicated earlier, some of our other neighbors in CARICOM are still grappling with constitutional and domestic issues in acceding to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ. I hope that the step taken today by the people of the Commonwealth of Dominica will go in some way to strengthen their resolve to making this final step in their own Independence arrangements and in the enrichment of our Caribbean civilization.
The ability of our people to have their matters and conflicts determined by our own Judges, who can appreciate their cultural mores and the nuance of their language, will, in my view, enhance the dispensing of justice for our people.
These Justices of Appeal are better positioned to appreciate our wants, our needs, our mentality and our spirit. Never doubt how important this is in the determination of cases.
As simple as it may seem, words are open to several interpretations and much depend on context and culture. For example, we do not have to explain that a “lime” is not a citrus fruit; when that word is used to describe a gathering of our people sharing fellowship in the midst of Carnival!
Finally, there is no doubt that our Caribbean jurisprudence will be strengthened.
We anticipate that there will not only be the fearless efforts to protect the rights of our people or to interpret the law for those who may need further guidance, but, as has already been seen by the decisions of the Court, there will continue to be a healthy approach to judicial activism, as we seek to transform former colonies into confident and fair independent nations.
Laws may be made in Parliament but they are perfected through the interpretation of the Courts. Together, both the legislature and the judiciary play their role in the transformation of societies and the use of law as a tool of empowerment in the development process of our societies and economies.
We believe that the Caribbean Court of Justice will continue to generate an important body of legal precedent and jurisprudence, from which other democratic societies across the Commonwealth, founded on the same fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitutions, will draw.
We have a worthy contribution to make to the evolution of Commonwealth jurisprudence. Indeed, we note that the larger the pool of countries over which the Court presides, the larger will be the pool of cases that will come before it and the more diverse the range of cases.
Your Excellencies and Your Lordships, ladies and gentlemen, as I close, let me reflect on the idea that has been often asserted, that the only thing we need to do to fail, as a Caribbean region, is to doubt ourselves. Doubt and fear are universal emotions that paralyze people.
In the name of the people of our Nation, the Commonwealth of Dominica, I boldly assert our confidence in who we are as a people and what we can achieve when we set our minds to the tasks at hand!
We shall eagerly embrace our future, full in the knowledge that today we bring closer to the average Dominican, not just the promise, but, the reality of what it means to be a sovereign and independent people.
I commend this Caribbean Court of Justice to all Dominicans….!!!
Let this act reflect the commitment that we can always rise to higher heights; when we seek to perfect the manner in which we govern ourselves, and give clear and decisive expression to what must be achieved, to allow each Dominican the opportunity to be the best that they can be.
Today, with God’s blessing and grace, we come one step closer to perfecting that goal.
May God bless the Caribbean Court of Justice and may God bless the Commonwealth of Dominica!!!! I thank you.