Prime Ministerial Madness, and Robes that do not Bind
Submitted by George C. Brathwaite (PhD)
The independence of the CCJ and its fitness … should not be a matter in which there is any doubt. In assessing the independence of a court, one looks at the quality and the character of the judges of the court, the institutional arrangements for the selection of judges, focusing particularly on the absence of political involvement, as well as the independence and sustainability of the financial arrangements for the operation of the court. The CCJ meets these standards. – (Sir Dennis Byron, 2012).
Freundel Stuart of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), in what will likely be his last days as the beleaguered Prime Minister of Barbados, has proven once more that on awaking from his slumber, he would rather shoot from the hip while aiming recklessly, than gather his bearings and pierce the intended target with any precision.
Last Friday night, in a desperate attempt to rally the dwindling numbers of DLP supporters and to capture and keep those willing to risk their futures with another term under the DLP administration, Stuart suggested that should the DLP be returned to office, Barbados will be withdrawing from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final Court of Appeal.
Prime Minister Stuart narrow-mindedly stated:
Barbados is not going back to the Privy Council because we are not going backward; life goes not backward or tarries with yesterday. But once the Democratic Labour Party is re-elected to office, I am determined, to put Barbados on the same level as every other CARICOM country by de-linking from the Caribbean Court of Justice in its appellate jurisdiction. We went in first and we can come out first.” Plainly, this statement by Barbados’ 67 year-old prime minister is arbitrary nonsense!
Several years ago, one of the main architects of the CCJ – Sir David Simmons the former Chief Justice of Barbados and eminent jurist – indicated that the CCJ’s setting up was “not the product of some sudden or knee-jerk reaction to recent decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC)” but in fact was a conscious decision. Indeed, since 1947 there were forthright discussions on claiming political, and self-evidently the sovereign independence that accompanies such, within the context of the wider Caribbean. Barbados, like all other Caribbean countries, has systematically through processes of decolonization and quest for self-determination operated on a drive for the type of political independence which further implies the autonomy for its legislative and executive affairs.
In my doctoral thesis, I made the point that the discourse and many actions by leading “national actors do not conform to the stated desire of the member states for deeper regional integration and integrated development.” The negative political posturing that can sometimes happen, occurred in Barbados with the DLP’s victory in 2008.
Issues of intra-CARICOM migration and CARICOM citizens living – legally or undocumented – in Barbados consumed the popular discourse over the next couple years to no one’s benefit. Hardly anyone in the region would forget the notorious and inglorious statement by then Prime Minister David Thompson (DLP), when he stated: ‘ever so welcome, wait for a call’. Thompson and the DLP sought to rid Barbados of numerous CARICOM immigrants who were actively and welcomingly contributing to Barbados’ economy and national development. In response, Barbados was accused by Guyana and other member states of abandoning the ‘spirit of CARICOM’ as it related to Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
This past weekend, the issue of Barbados attempting to walk away from the ‘spirit’ of integrated functionality in the Caribbean Community under the administrative guidance of the DLP is most staggering, particularly when measured against the episodes of a post-2009 era in which Barbados’ reputation became tarnished, and the exit of many CARICOM citizens put pressure on the availability of agricultural produce, other food items, and placed downward pressures on rising labour costs. Numerous households and businesses relying on the valuable input of CARICOM citizens living and working in Barbados were short-changed because of the exits and unnecessary deportations. Thousands of Barbadians were robbed of opportunities for enhancing localised commercial activities while cementing Barbados’ pivotal place in the regional integration movement.
Lest one forgets, it was none other than the Right Excellent Errol Barrow – one of ten Barbados National Heroes – that was a founding father and pioneer of formal integration relations in the region. Although Freundel Stuart prides himself in historical knowledge, it is a definite absurdity that this irksome leader should overlook the cautions of Errol Barrow who warned at his very last Heads of Government Conference of the Caribbean Community in 1986 that: “The promise of the regional integration movement … cannot be realised unless we [the national leaders] find new ways of communicating to the mass of our people the meaning and purpose of all our regional institutions.”
The CCJ came about in February 2001 and would not have become a reality in Barrow’s lifetime. However, and in Barbados, after the Caribbean Court of Justice Bill that was debated in 2003 in the House of Assembly and gained full consensus of the legislature, the CCJ became the final Court of Appeal for the island. The CCJ’s operational and juridical presence, both in its original and appellate jurisdictions, today points directly to bringing access and the ‘rule of law’ to the people of Barbados.
With the CCJ came the development of a Caribbean jurisprudence, providing nationals and foreign entities “the assurance fostered by the existence of an independent and efficient judiciary” together with the capacity to settle commercial disputes, to hear criminal and civil disputes at the appellate stage with the highest integrity and independence of the judiciary, and to lessen litigation costs.
Ironically but not surprisingly, Freundel Stuart is an attorney, and was the Attorney General of Barbados when Thompson made his offending statement and Barbados appeared to retreat from spearheading and upholding CARICOM’s Single Market and Economy (CSME). In these his dying days as primus inter pares and the legitimate Prime Minister of Barbados, Stuart’s statement about “not going to have Barbados disrespected by any politicians wearing robes’ amounts to taking a ‘potshot’ at the judges of the CCJ. Is it a deliberate ploy by Stuart to distract the local electorate from the burning issues of economic mismanagement, wastage and administrative malfeasance that happened under his tenure?
Surely, with mere days left before voters take to the ballot box, it seems unwise and non-strategic to be reckless and gladiatorial when one can prefer to appeal to the passivity of a Barbadian populace known to be relatively tolerant. Why did Stuart not extract the few achievements of the DLP, and expand on those with the hope that the voters would be willing to offer a modicum of a chance for re-election as the government?
The fact that in building a rationale for his unnecessary and unlikely withdrawal of Barbados from the CCJ and, knowing that a two-thirds majority in Parliament is needed to achieve such a caprice, Stuart revealed his character of untimely speech and out-of-touch demeanour with the people. Stuart’s saying that he does not “want to influence any decisions” and that he does not “care what they decide” is a ludicrous position to put oneself in, particularly when the court has exhibited the highest professional integrity in its judgements and general conduct. Stuart himself suggested that he was not commenting on the decisions of the CCJ, because he respects the decisions that courts make.
Yet, while Stuart may fuss and frustrate over the “attitude coming from Port of Spain,” that according to him, “leaves much to be desired in terms of how it is treating Barbados,” it is irresponsible and inflammatory for him to overlook the many long-standing problems being articulated in Barbados’ judicial system. From tardiness to unpreparedness, the CCJ has been justified in highlighting such problems.
In fact, and to draw on Sir David Simmons who used an extract from a contribution of a deceased Prime Minister and Queen’s Council Sir Harold ‘Bree’ St. John, who spoke years earlier indicating the essence of Barbadian complaints and criticisms of the judicial system, said that: “There can be no doubt about it now and it is an open secret all over Barbados that there is a level of dissatisfaction in the community in respect of certain areas of the administration of justice in Barbados. This dissatisfaction arises from the experiences of a number of people with the judicial process. Some people get frustrated by the delays, not only the hearing dates but in the process of hearing and, worst of all, in the process of decision-making after the hearing.”
Certainly, it may be because of the DLP’s paltry performances measured against broken promises and bad policies that may have led Freundel Stuart to grab at any straw. Stuart was at one and the same time being dismissive of the CCJ and vainglorious to Barbadians and regional counterparts despite numerous persons questioning why was the Myrie incident so badly handled at the diplomatic level? Why was the matter not kept away from the courts? Why was the Electoral Commission of Barbados so reticent to uphold the laws and customs of Barbados regarding Commonwealth citizens’ right to vote in the upcoming general elections?
It is therefore, quite okay for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to say that he is “not going to have a situation where other countries in the Caribbean keep a safe, safe distance from that court while Barbados supports” its functionality and decisions. That seems to be fair ground; but would it not have preferable for him to be part of the formula encouraging member states to ‘close the circle of independence’ for this region?
However, it cannot be acceptable to have a prime minister jump from his slumber and go straight into a bout of political madness, outright clumsiness, or salivate with the drowsiness that comes from trying to implore an electorate to vote for your party out of sheer desperation. Stuart’s anti-CCJ statement takes shape exposing his excremental silliness at a time when Barbadians and the Caribbean region are looking for the transformational leadership that can deliver prosperity and justice for the populations whose very survival is reliant on functional cooperation. As Errol Barrow asserted, our “battle of communication in defence of the unity of the region … beyond the confines of conferences” must be effectively translated at home and in the region. Prime ministerial madness cannot be a part of the future for Barbados or the Caribbean.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a political consultant. Email: email@example.com )