Caribbean Court of Justice

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This article is about the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community. For the superior court of record for OECS member states, see Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ; Dutch: Caribisch Hof van Justitie; French: Cour Caribéenne de Justice[1]) is the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Established in 2001, it is based in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The CCJ sits at 134 Henry Street in Port of Spain.

The Caribbean Court of Justice has two jurisdictions: an original jurisdiction and an appellate jurisdiction:

  • In its original jurisdiction, the CCJ interprets and applies the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established the Caribbean Community), and is an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation of the treaty.
  • In its appellate jurisdiction, the CCJ hears appeals as the court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters from those member states which have ceased to allow appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC). As of 2011, Barbados, Belize, and Guyana have replaced the JCPC's appellate jurisdiction with that of the CCJ. In July, 2014, Dominica's Parliament approved a bill to make the CCJ the final court of appeal[2] and Dominica acceded to the CCJ in the appellate jurisdiction on 6 March 2015[3]


Caribbean Community
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This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the Caribbean Community

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies, which had lasted a mere four years, from 1958 to 1962, the Anglophone continental and insular Caribbean states formed CARIFTA (the Caribbean Free Trade Association), with a view to maintaining an economic link among the various former and continuing colonies of the United Kingdom after the collapse of the political bond. On 1 August 1973, the successor to CARIFTA, the Caribbean Community, better known by its acronym, CARICOM, came into being. The founding document of CARICOM, the Treaty of Chaguaramas, was signed by the so-called "Big Four" states: Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, all of which had gained their political independence from the UK during the 1960s. This signing was the starter’s signal for a more mature, though at times slow and halting process of regional integration among the states of the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas[edit]

In 2001, the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, at their 22nd meeting in Nassau, The Bahamas, signed the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, rebranding the Caribbean Community and Common Market to include the proposed CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). The single market replacing the original Common Market aspect of the group. Originally an Anglophone club, the admission of Dutch-speaking Suriname in 1995, and Créole-speaking Haiti (where French is the official language) in 2002 has somewhat modified the cultural and jurisprudential mix of the community.

Under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, and typical of similar international integrationist movements, CARICOM has restructured itself to include such elements as are characteristic of the modern democratic state, viz., executive, legislative and judicial arms.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is the Caribbean regional judicial tribunal established on 14 February 2001, by the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice. The agreement was signed on that date by the CARICOM states of: Antigua & Barbuda; Barbados; Belize; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; St. Kitts & Nevis; St. Lucia; Suriname; and Trinidad & Tobago. Two further states, Dominica and St. Vincent & The Grenadines, signed the agreement on 15 February 2003, bringing the total number of signatories to 12. The Bahamas and Haiti, though full members of CARICOM, are not yet signatories, and because of Montserrat's status as a British territory, they must await Instruments of Entrustment from the UK in order to ratify. The Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice came into force on 23 July 2003, and the CCJ was inaugurated on 16 April 2005 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, the Seat of the Court.

The CCJ is intended to be a hybrid institution: a municipal court of last resort and an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. On the one hand, it is vested with an original and compulsory jurisdiction with respect to the interpretation and application of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. In the exercise of this jurisdiction, the CCJ discharges the functions of an international tribunal, applying rules of international law in respect of the interpretation and application of the treaty. The CCJ thus performs functions like the European Court of Justice, the Andean Court of Justice and the International Court of Justice. On the other, it exercises an appellate jurisdiction, as a final court of appeal for CARICOM member states, replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) for Anglophone member states. In the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, the CCJ hears appeals from common law courts within the jurisdictions of parties to the Agreement Establishing the CCJ, and is the highest municipal court in the region.

Appellate jurisdiction[edit]

The birth of the CCJ came after a long, arduous gestation. In March 1970, the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations (OCCBA) first raised the issue of the need to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the court of last resort for the Commonwealth Caribbean by a regional court of appeal. Again in Jamaica, just a month later, at the VI Commonwealth Caribbean Heads of Government, the heads agreed to take action on relinquishing the Privy Council as the Anglophone Caribbean’s last appeal court and mandated a committee of CARICOM attorneys-general to further explore the question of the establishment of what was then being called a "Caribbean Court of Appeal".

Further to the perceived need for an indigenous court as tribunal of last resort in criminal and civil matters in the Caribbean, other considerations eventually weighed heavily in favour of the creation of the judicial arm of CARICOM. As Duke Pollard, then Director of the Caricom Legislative Drafting Facility, wrote in 2000: "the old Treaty of Chaguaramas provided for arbitration in the event of disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the Treaty. Unfortunately, however, the arbitral procedure was never used and serious disputes were never settled, thereby causing the integration movement to be hampered. Moreover, the rights and obligations created by the CSME are so important and extensive, relating to the establishment of economic enterprises, the provision of professional services, the movement of capital, the acquisition of land for the operation of businesses, that there is a clear need to have a permanent, central, regional institution to authoritatively and definitively pronounce on those rights and corresponding obligations. The Caribbean Court of Justice is intended to be such an authoritative institution."

The official inauguration was held in Queen's Hall, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Saturday 16 April 2005. The first case heard by the CCJ was in August 2005[4] and was to settle a "decade-long" libel court case from Barbados. Barbados and Guyana acceded to the CCJ's appellate jurisdiction in 2005, with Belize joining them in June 2010, and Dominica in February 2015.

Jurisdictional competition with the Privy Council[edit]

The reasons given for the establishment of a supreme appellate court are many and varied, including a perceived regional disenfranchisement from the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.[5][6][7][8]

Controversy surrounding the establishment of this court corresponds to two major events that made the Privy Council unpopular in the Caribbean region.

  • One reason was the refusal of the Privy Council to allow capital punishment for persons convicted of murder (who had spent more than five years pursuing their various appeal options) to be practiced in Caribbean states, even where a majority of the people in the relevant jurisdictions supported the death penalty.[9][10][11] In the 1993 case of Pratt v Attorney General of Jamaica, the Privy Council held that persons imprisoned on death row for more than five years should have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
  • The second main issue was a case involving the government of Dominica, where the Privy Council handed out a radio licence to a company on behalf of the aforementioned government without its approval or consent. The British-based court has been perceived as having too much power in the Caribbean region.

Several politicians also lamented that the Caribbean nations are the only remaining region of the old British Empire still to rely on the British court system for appeals.

Jurisdiction by country[edit]


Barbados recognizes the court for original and final jurisdictions. In 2003 the Parliament of Barbados passed the Caribbean Court of Justice Act and the Constitution (Amendment) Act, and they were brought into force by Proclamation on 8 April 2005.


Belizean legislation to recognize the CCJ was tied up for some years in partisan politics. In 2007, the People's United Party (PUP)-led government introduced the Caribbean Court of Justice Bill, but due to the opposition of United Democratic Party (UDP) members, it did not achieve the required three-fourths majority. This led to mutual recriminations, with PM Said Musa accusing the UDP of being anti-Caribbean, while the UDP complained of the PUP's attempts to tie the CCJ Bill to the Coast Guard Bill, which the UDP supported.[12] The Belizean general election, 2008 resulted in the UDP taking power; new PM Dean Barrow then tabled the Belize Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Bill, which aside from replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the CCJ, would also have removed the prohibition against dual citizens being elected to the National Assembly.[13] This time the PUP blocked passage of the constitutional amendment until the dual citizenship provision was removed; after this was done, the bill passed in February 2010.[14] After the passage of the bill, PM Barrow signed the order in May 2010 to abolish appeals to the Privy Council beginning on 1 June that year.[15]


The Jamaica Labour Party resisted the full powers of the CCJ on the basis that it was a hanging court.[citation needed] In February, 2005, the Privy Council declared that the CCJ-related companion bills passed by the Jamaican Parliament in 2004 were unconstitutional and therefore void. The bills would have established the CCJ as the final court of appeal in Jamaica.[citation needed] The Privy Council sided with the appellants, including the Jamaican Council for Human Rights, the Jamaica Labour Party and others, ruling that to establish the CCJ as the country's final appeal court, without it being entrenched in the constitution would undermine the protection given to the Jamaican people by Chapter Seven of the Jamaican constitution. The court concluded that the procedure appropriate for an amendment of an entrenched provision—a referendum—should have been followed.

In January 2012, the new People's National Party government of Jamaica stated that it would be moving to have the CCJ serving in both the original and appellate jurisdictions for Jamaica in time for the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence in August.[16] The Jamaica Labour Party, now in opposition, stated it has no issue with the government's plan and seems set to support the move despite strident objections in the past.[17] In February, the foreign affairs minister of Jamaica has also called on Trinidad & Tobago to sign on to the court's appellate jurisdiction to mark that country's 50th anniversary of independence.[18]

Trinidad and Tobago[edit]

In late 2009, controversy arose over the fact that the CEO of a company involved in CCJ litigation was also the chairman of the Court's trust fund.[19]

In April 2012, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced in Parliament that it intended to abolish criminal appeals to the Privy Council in favour of the CCJ and would be tabling legislation to that effect. This follows a review of the situation conducted by the government after a commitment given at the last Caricom Heads of Government conference in Suriname in July 2011. Although the announcement had the general support of the Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley,[20] he expressed disappointment that the government was "only going halfway" by planning to adopt the CCJ for criminal appeals only[21] while retaining the Privy Council for civil matters and cautioned that the move may not be legally possible under the relevant treaties. He said the opposition People's National Movement was fully supportive of adopting the CCJ as a final appeals court on all matters, both civil and criminal.[22] It has been observed however that there is a precedent for the partial abolition of appeals to the Privy Council with Canada ending criminal appeals to the court in 1933 and civil appeals in 1949.[23]

Other states[edit]

It is expected that the two Caribbean states that will have the most difficulty accessing the court will be Suriname which has a Dutch-based legal system, and Haiti which has a French-based legal system. All other member states have British-based legal systems with the CCJ itself being predominantly modeled after the British system.

In 2011, Bahamian Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett said The Bahamas should eventually abandon the Privy Council as the final court of appeal and move toward the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). While that decision would be up to the government of The Bahamas, Sir Michael said there is a “powerful argument to moving eventually toward the CCJ”.

“Whether we do that now is a matter for political debate and a matter that [the government] will have to discuss and consider,” Sir Michael told the Nassau Guardian following the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers Conference.

“I have my own views and I think it’s almost a natural progression of our constitutional development that we move away from the Privy Council and I think the Caribbean Court of Justice is likely to be the alternative to the Privy Council. I think that as a part of our constitutional development it’s almost inevitable that we move away from the Privy Council like lots of other countries, including Australia and New Zealand.”

Sir Michael said while the Privy Council has been useful, the CCJ would better serve the country’s needs. “It's a regional court but it's also part of our development as a nation that we look to our own court for the resolution of disputes.”[24]

Some proponents in The Bahamas wishing to sever links with the Privy Council are in favour of joining the CCJ, perhaps by having a dual final court of appeal system in the country with the Privy Council for civil and commercial matters and the CCJ for criminal matters.[25]

In 2012, following the 54th meeting of the OECS Authority, it was agreed that although all OECS members are committed to acceding to the CCJ's appellate jurisdiction as soon as possible the differing constitutional provisions of each member state meant that simultaneous accession was no longer the preferred option. Dominica and St. Kitts & Nevis are the only members that would be able to take steps to accede to the CCJ's appellate jurisdiction during the course of 2012[26] as they only require a parliamentary majority to join up to the court. Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda would require referenda before being able to accede, while St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines would need a parliamentary majority approving accession along with a judicial resolution.[27]

On 29 January 2015, it was announced that Dominica would become the fourth CARICOM member state to accede to both the original and appellate jurisdictions of the CCJ by early February 2015. This was announced by Dominica's Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit and follows on the formal approval received in 2014 from the British government that was required in order for Dominica to delink from the Privy Council.[28] Dominica acceded to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction on 6 March 2015.[3]


As of 24 April 2015:

State Members of the Court President Judge
 Saint Kitts and Nevis Rt Hon. Sir Dennis Byron 2011–
 Trinidad and Tobago Hon. Rolston Nelson 2005–
 Jamaica Hon. W. Charles Anderson 2010–
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Hon. Adrian Saunders 2005–
 United Kingdom Hon. David Hayton 2005–
 Netherlands Antilles Hon. Jacob Wit 2005–

Past Judges:

State Members of the Court President Judge
 Trinidad and Tobago Hon. Michael de la Bastide 2005–2011
 Guyana Hon. Duke Pollard 2005–2010
 Guyana Hon. Désirée Bernard 2005–2014

See also[edit]



  1. ^ BBC Caribbean: News in Brief - see picture
  2. ^ "Dominica’s Parliament Approves Bill to Make CCJ Final Court of Appeal". Caribbean Journal. 3 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Dominica's CCJ Accession Ceremony Today
  4. ^ "Caribbean court hears first case". BBC News. 9 August 2005. 
  5. ^ Mike Melia, "Spurning Europe, Caribbean pushes death penalty", 11 Nov 2008[dead link]
  6. ^ Mike Melia (Associated Press), "Spurning Europe, Caribbean pushes death penalty", 11 November 2008[dead link]
  7. ^ Letter: Colonial power over death penalty By Therese Mills (BBC), Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 19:15 GMT
  8. ^ T & T pushing death penalty Nation Newspaper - 17 January 2008
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Caribbean rejects UK justice". BBC News. 15 February 2001. 
  12. ^ "UDP says nay to CCJ". Amandala. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  13. ^ "Belize Constitution Seventh Amendment Bill Tabled". 7 News Belize. 19 June 2009. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  14. ^ Ramos, Adele (26 February 2010). "Belize Senate approves Caribbean Court of Justice". Amandala. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  15. ^ "Good Bye: Belize abolishes all appeals to Privy Council". Dominica News Online. 13 May 2010. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  16. ^ Gary Spaulding, "CCJ For Independence", The Gleaner, 2 January 2012
  17. ^ Conrad Hamilton, "JLP ready to support Portia's CCJ bid - Opposition firm on Caribbean Court over Privy Council", Jamaica Observer, 9 January 2012.
  18. ^ Daraine Luton, "Joining CCJ should mark Jamaica, T&T's 50th, says Nicholson", 'Jamaica Gleaner, 6 February 2012.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Richard Lord, "Out goes Privy Council", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 26 April 2012.
  21. ^ "Caribbean integration - Centrifugal force", The Economist, 2 June 2012.
  22. ^ "Opposition leader blasts Trinidad and Tobago's ‘illegal and half-way’ move to join CCJ", CANA News Online, 26 April 2012.
  23. ^ Dana Seetahal, "CCJ — partial adoption as final court?", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 27 April 2012.
  24. ^ Krystel Rolle, "Bahamas should abandon Privy Council, says chief justice", Caribbean News Now, 8 October 2011.
  25. ^ Candia Dames, "Is it time to abandon the Privy Council?", The Nassau Guardian, 4 July 2011.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Jamaica's embrace helping CCJ, says Sir Dennis", Jamaica Observer, 18 April 2012.
  28. ^ Dominica to become the fourth full CCJ member

Other sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Matthew Gayle, "Caribbean Court of Justice or the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council? A Discussion on the Final Appellate Court for the Commonwealth Caribbean" 2011 KSLR 126,
  • Vannina Ettori, "A Comparative Analysis of the Canadian and Caribbean Progressions Toward Judicial Independence: Perspectives on the Caribbean Court of Justice", 2002, Caribbean Law Review 100
  • Roget V. Bryan, "Towards The Development of a Caribbean Jurisprudence: The Case for Establishing a Caribbean Court of Appeal", Journal of Transnational Law and Policy, Volume 7:2, 1998.

External links[edit]