December 4, 2023

Written History: The Classic Tale of the CCJ and Caribbean Jurisprudence


Javier Spencer

The 19th meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agreed that a Caribbean court of appeal should be established to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) – commonly known as The Privy Council- as the final appellate court for the Region. The overall goal of this decision was to increase access to justice that is applicable and unique to the socio-cultural environment of the People of the Region. In many instances, judgements passed down from the Privy Council have not been contextualized in the Caribbean reality. To this end, there has been an evident need for a court of appeal that considers the intricacies of the Region’s culture and reality. This article will briefly retell the tale of how the Court has improved the Region’s jurisprudence on decided cases in its appellate jurisdiction.

Purpose and Structure

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has been described, by many, as a unique experiment with two courts in one. But its existence is one that is critical for bringing about independence, integration, and development for an indigenous jurisprudence in the region. Having regard to the aim of strengthening the Region’s economic integration, the Court’s remit is to hear and determine cases in its original and appellate jurisdictions. In its Original Jurisdiction, the CCJ interprets and applies the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction. On the other hand, its Appellate Jurisdiction hears appeals as the court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters. Since its inception in 2005, the Court has heard and determined complex cases which have contributed to the shaping and moulding of a Caribbean jurisprudence.

The Cases and Legal Principles

The Law of Human Rights

In 2006, the CCJ had the privilege of shaping the Region’s understanding of the law of human rights and further shaped its jurisprudence in this respect. For example, the exercise of the prerogative of mercy was brought to the fore in the case of Attorney General v. Joseph, [2006] CCJ 1 (AJ). The prerogative of Mercy was introduced in the Region when the Privy Council ruled against an execution delay in excess of 5 years. In such cases, all death sentences under this rule should be commuted to only life imprisonment. The Court’s judgement in the Joseph and Boyce refuted this principle upheld by the Privy Council, especially where the death sentence was mandatory in Barbados.

The prominent concern was whether the state (Barbados) should await the decision from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Court had to closely analyse precedent set out by the Privy Council and having regard to due process, the condemned has right to await the decision of the International Tribunal. However, the discrepancy existed where International Law differed from Constitutional Law of Barbados, and the onus was on the Court to strike a balance between the rights stipulated by the international body to that of the national law of Barbados. In its deliberation, the Court opined that it was unacceptable for the state to wait indefinitely for the completion of a foreign process over which it had no control. The undue delay in this process did not consider an extension of the 5 year time limit or by excluding it in computing that period. At this turning point, the Court had to duly interpret and apply the doctrine of legitimate expectation. However, if the decision-making of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was in excess of 18 months, within a 5 year period, the state should not be required to wait beyond a reasonable time.

Standard of Proof & Admissibility of Evidence

Standard of Proof became another jurisprudential subject in effectively shaping the legal system in the Region. The admissibility of evidence was challenged on the basis that sample evidence could not be proven since it came from the accused. In this regard, the Court’s interpretation of the Evidence Act Statute of Barbados determined that there had to be stricter standard of proof relevant to the proceedings. By way of the Evidence Act, oral admission by the accused lacked authenticity and reliability as illuminated in the case of Grazette v The Queen, [2009] CCJ 2 (AJ). In its interpretation of the Evidence Act Statute of Barbados, the Court had to jostle with the effective application of the Act since it was modelled from the Australian Law Commission.

Land Law

Jurisprudence throughout the Caribbean continues to have international influence as evidenced in Guyana’s land law. The legislation comprised of a hybrid between Roman-Dutch Law and the English Common Law; and to this end, peculiar interpretation was needed in respect of adverse possession (change of ownership). Espoused in Toolsie Persaud Ltd. v. James Investments, [2008] CCJ 5 (AJ), the Court had to determine whether there could have been a change in ownership when the title documents were declared invalid. Additionally, determining specific performance involving the sale of land in Guyana was captured in Ramkishun ad item Sukhree v. Fung-Kee-Fung, [2010] CCJ 2 (AJ) where the owner agreed to sell the land to the purchaser and died before conveyance. The owner’s administrator transferred it to the owner’s heir instead of the purchaser. Under the principles of English Common Law, the transaction would have been granted but the purchaser would have acquired an equitable interest. Differently, using the principles of Roman-Dutch Law, the system on equitable interest would have granted the transaction. The Court’s amalgamation of the two legal systems had formulated the Law of Immovable in Guyana, refusing specific performance. In this instance, the CCJ has demonstrated its capacity to devise appropriate and effective solutions regarding the land law principle in Guyana (Byron, 2011).

Right to a Fair Trial

The Court continued along its trajectory to contribute to the development of the Region’s jurisprudence by establishing the meaning of fairness concerning the constitutional right to a fair trial as exhibited in Gibson v. Attorney General, [2010] CCJ 3 (AJ). After Gibson pleaded not guilty to charge brought against him, he sought after expert evidence which was costly. In this regard, the Court was faced with the decision as to whether Gibson should have access to expert facilities funded by the state. The inequality of arms was so serious that denying access to expert advice could adversely affect the fairness of the trail. Therefore, Gibson was granted access to expert facilities. This case solidified and set precedent in respect of legal rights in the Region.

Accountability and Good Governance

Can a State bring an action in tort for misfeasance in public office? Florencio Marin v. Attorney General of Belize, [2011] CCJ 9 (AJ) highlighted that two former ministers were alleged to have transferred land to a company owned by one of them for something of sufficient value in return (consideration). Remedies include dismissal from office, disciplinary actions, prosecution, and the imposition of legislation for a breach of trust and integrity.

Access to Justice

Along with the development of a sui generis jurisprudence for the Region, one of the main tenets of the Court is to significantly improve access to justice in order to promote social stability and economic development. For instance, appeals at the Court have been heard in forma pauperis so as to facilitate the Court’s use by ordinary citizens of Member States. Ross v. Sinclair, [2009] CCJ 11 (AJ) allowed two very underprivileged ladies from Guyana to bring civil appeals to be determined by the Court. In support of the main aim of ordinary citizens to derive the benefits from the Court, Bar Associations in the Region have had Attorneys provide pro bono services so that important matters could be ventilated for persons who could not afford to have their own legal representation (Byron, 2011).

Access to justice at the Court is enhanced through the use of technology. Lawyers can make submissions and receive judgments electronically. The Court, to date, has been hearing interlocutory matters via audio video which are available on the Court’s website, at a minimal cost. Having regard to the effective use of technology, the Court is saving the Region large sums of money by providing quality access to justice (Gibson, 2012).
The Modern Day Conversation/ Conclusion

To date, many CARICOM Member States are debating whether the Court should be the final Court of Appeal in the Region to replace the Privy Council. The modern day debate stems from grounded criticism of political intrusion in the Court’s decision-making process and sustainable financing of its operations. The argument of political intrusion came about in respect of the selection of Judges for the Court. Originally, it was the Heads of Government to directly appoint Judges and in response, to mitigate the risk of political intrusion, the Regional Legal Services Commission (the Commission) was established in February 2001. The remit of the Commission is to appoint Judges, from the legal profession, through open applications received from throughout the Region. One possible downfall to this, however, is that the selection of the Judges for the Court is conducted by regional entities which are creatures of political influence. Therefore, is the Court truly insulated from political influence?

Out of the 15 Member States, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Guyana utilize the Court as the final court of appeal. Considerations to accede are being discussed in other Member States such as Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and Jamaica. However, to fully accept the Court as a replacement of the old colonial relic remains a daunting process and discourse continues throughout the Region. Some arguments in favour of the CCJ as the final court of appeal in the region are: 1) it is cost effective access to justice, 2) judgements will take into consideration the Caribbean reality, 3) it is a regional court that will implement specific rules and laws, which will augur well for good governance in the Region, 4) judgements on cases will be delivered faster, and 5) it will bode well for the Region as one that is independent and confident to determine its own fate.

This historic tale has proven the Court’s ability to replace the Privy Council. In this regard, there should not be any doubt lurking amongst our Member States about the Court’s rightful place as the final court of appeal. In closing, one should cogitate on this question asked by Dr. Kenny Anthony,

Why on earth should we compel the British to maintain the Privy Council, when the British have said to us time and time again to take your bundle and go?”

Javier Spencer, B.Sc., M.Sc., is an International Business & Trade Professional with a B.Sc. in International Business and a M.Sc. in International Trade Policy. His professional interests include Regional Integration, International Business, Global Diplomacy and International Trade & Development. He may be contacted at javier.spencer at


The Caribbean Trade Law and Development Blog is owned and was founded by Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. (Dist.), LL.B. (Hons), a Caribbean-based trade and development consultant. She writes and presents regularly on trade and development matters affecting the Caribbean and other small states. You can follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw. All views expressed on this Blog are Alicia's personal views and do NOT necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may from time to time be affiliated.

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