Category Archives: caribbean court of justice

CCJ Issues Ruling in Gay Rights Freedom of Movement Case

Alicia Nicholls

Test cases in law are a legal academic’s dream. They  help to map uncharted legal waters by establishing important legal principles and rights, which, as precedents, would be binding in subsequent cases whose facts are similar. The consolidated  test cases of Tomlinson v Belize, Trinidad & Tobago brought by prominent Jamaican attorney and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex) activist, Mr Maurice Tomlinson, before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) aimed to do just that.

Mr. Tomlinson challenged the consistency of discriminatory provisions contained in the Immigration Acts of the defendant states, Belize and Trinidad & Tobago, which classify homosexuals among the classes of prohibited immigrants. He claimed that the mere existence of those provisions infringed his right of entry as an LGBTI Community national under Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the 2007 Heads of Government Conference Decision.

Article XII of the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice gives the Court exclusive jurisdiction, subject to provisions of the Revised Treaty, in matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty. Freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals has been a sore point in Community relations, with some States claiming that their nationals are routinely discriminated against.  The Court rendered its landmark decision on the right of freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals in the case of Myrie v Barbados. The CCJ’s ruling in that case established definitively that CARICOM member states were bound by the 2007 Decision of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM to allow all CARICOM nationals hassle-free entry into their territories and a stay of six months upon arrival. The only exceptions for refusing entry are where  the Member State deems a person to be “undesirable person” or where  it is believed the Community national seeking entry may become a charge on public funds.

The points of law raised in the instant case are unique as it is the first time that a CARICOM national has challenged the immigration laws of a CARICOM member state on the basis of infringing the right of entry of LGBTI community persons. Mr. Tomlinson also claimed infringement of his right under Article 7 of the Revised Treaty to not be discriminated against on the basis of nationality only and that being a UWI graduate and thus a Skilled CARICOM National, his rights under Article 46 of the Treaty would also be infringed.

The relevant sections from the two Immigration  Acts in question are as follows:

Belize Immigration Act (Cap 156):

5.-(1) Subject to section 2 (3), the following persons are prohibited

(e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living
on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the
proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour;

Trinidad & Tobago Immigration Act

8. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), entry into
Trinidad and Tobago of the persons described in this subsection,
other than citizens and, subject to section 7(2), residents, is
prohibited, namely—

(e) prostitutes, homosexuals or persons living on
the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals, or
persons reasonably suspected as coming to
Trinidad and Tobago for these or any other
immoral purposes;

As a matter of context for readers outside of the Caribbean, LGBTI rights are still not recognised in Caribbean countries. No one needs to look further than the many archaic and discriminatory laws still found on our statute books, which though not all enforced, still discriminate against members of the LGBTI community and are incongruous to the requirement of legal certainty.

Mr. Tomlinson argued that while he has never been himself denied entry into the defendant member states,  the mere existence of the provisions in question were inconsistent with his right of entry as to enter would amount to him being in breach of the law. As such, Mr. Tomlinson not only requested the Court to make declaratory orders declaring his right of entry to these states, but also that the provisions in question violated his right to freedom of movement and his right not to be discriminated against on the basis of nationality only. He also requested the court to order Belize and Trinidad & Tobago to remove homosexuals from the class of prohibited immigrants.

For their part, the defendant states argued, inter alia, that the existence of the provisions in question in their Immigration Acts  has not hindered Mr. Tomlinson’s entry into their territories. They also did not deny that Mr. Tomlinson was entitled to entry and stay of up to 6 months. The defendant states also agreed that they did not see Mr. Tomlinson, a homosexual, as an “undesirable person” within the meaning given in the 2007 Conference decision.


The Court agreed that homosexuals cannot be categorised as ‘undesirable persons’ and concluded that homosexual CARICOM nationals have a right to freedom of movement on the same terms as any other CARICOM national. However, in regards to the central issue on whether the mere existence of the challenged statutory provisions constituted a breach of those States’ obligations, the Court had consideration for the state practice in Belize and Trinidad & Tobago. Interestingly, the Court accepted Belize’s interpretation of section 5(1)(e) of its Immigration Act that homosexuals are only prohibited from entering the country in cases where they are engaging in prostitution or benefiting from acts of prostitution performed by others.

Turning to Trinidad & Tobago, the Court found that unlike the Belize provision, the provision in the Trinidad & Tobago Immigration Act expressly prohibited the entry of homosexuals and not solely those seeking to engage in prostitution. The Court, however, accepted Trinidad & Tobago’s evidence of state practice that despite the existence of this discriminatory provision, it is not enforced.

Noting the inconsistency of 8(1)(e) of Trinidad & Tobago’s Immigration Act with the Revised Treaty, the Court, however, made reference to Article 9 of the Revised Treaty which provides that “in the event of any inconsistencies between the provisions of this Act and the operation of any other law, the provisions of this Act [the Revised Treaty] shall prevail to the extent of the inconsistency’. The Court also noted that the state practice of Trinidad & Tobago and Belize does not suggest any incompatibility with the Revised Treaty or the 2007 Conference Decision. The Court held, therefore, that Tomlinson had no valid reason to assume that his rights would not be respected by the States.

However, the Court further emphasised at paragraph 59 of the Judgment that it was not condoning the retention by member states of legislation which conflicts with Community Law and stressed that “[s]tates should ensure that national laws, subsidiary legislation and administrative practices are transparent in their support of the free movement of all CARICOM nationals”. The Court also dismissed Mr. Tomlinson’s claims that his rights under Articles 7 and 46 of the Revised Treaty were infringed.

Jurisprudential Impact

Although the defendant lost his claim and was denied the requested remedies, this test case achieved two main things. Firstly, the Court stated definitively that “the practice or policy of admitting homosexual nationals from other CARICOM States (not falling under the two exceptions mentioned in the 2007 Conference Decision) is not a matter of discretion but is legally required based on Article 9 of the RTC as this is an appropriate measure within the meaning of that provision”. Therefore, States cannot as a matter of practice deny entry of homosexuals into their territories. It is hoped, however, that member States will move with alacrity to repeal those discriminatory sections of their Immigration Acts, and also give greater importance to bringing their laws into conformity with Community rules.

Secondly, in so doing, the judgment has added to the Court’s growing jurisprudence, including on the contentious issue of freedom of movement.This significance was not lost on the Court. The justices stated at paragraph 65 of the judgment that the case “raised novel questions and has contributed to the clarification and development of Community law”. While litigation may be costly for member states against which claims are brought, the testing of issues of law by Community nationals helps to clarify points of Community law and ensure that member states are held accountable and uphold the rights which they agreed that Community nationals should enjoy.

Recognising the need not to discourage parties from bringing test cases, particularly in the Court’s current stage of development, the Court in its discretion found the current circumstances were “exceptional circumstances” under Part 31.1(3) of its Original Jurisdiction Rules 2015 and so ordered both parties to bear their own costs.

Copies of the summary, entire judgment and the video of the delivery of the judgment are available on the CCJ’s website here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.



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