(CMC) The St. Lucia Parliament Tuesday night gave the green light for the island to have the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final and highest court, replacing the London-based Privy Council.
All 13 government legislators who were present when the vote was taken supported the motion.
Opposition Leader Allen Chastanet, who had earlier walked out of the Parliament during a debate on another matter, did not participate in the CCJ debate.
The government needed a three-fourths special majority of the 17-member Parliament to amend through the Constitution of St. Lucia Amendment Bill 2023 and, according to the Speaker Claudius Francis, the requirement was met when all 13 government members voted in support of the motion that had been tabled by Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre.
Two government legislators are out of the country on official business.
“It is a sad day that a former prime minister is not in the House to debate this bill,” PM Pierre said, adding that it showed the “scorn and contempt” Chastanet had for the population.
But speaking on a radio programme earlier, the United Workers Party (UWP) leader defended his decision to walk out, saying that he represents thousands of people and would not be “silenced” by a “biased” Speaker.
“People want to hear a different opinion and I am being denied the opportunity to speak,” Chastanet told radio listeners. “I am not going to allow the voice of the Leader of the Opposition to be marginalized.”
“There needs to be a challenge to what’s going on with the CCJ but I can’t do it alone,” he added, urging the population to express their feelings about the situation as well as the need for a referendum.
But government legislators, including former prime minister Dr. Kenny Anthony, who drafted the CCJ legislation when he served as the counsel general of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat in Guyana, brushed aside the call, saying that the St. Lucia Constitution makes no requirement for a referendum before acceding to the CCJ.
Prime Minister Pierre said he intends to write the British government providing an update on the move towards the CCJ in keeping with the agreement reached when the island attained political independence from Britain 44 years ago.
In addition, he said he would be informing former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson, who in earlier correspondence had expressed confidence in St Lucia’s move and the experience of Anthony to help guide the process.
He said he would inform Patterson that, “Kenny did give us a lot of his knowledge and we did pass the bill”.
Pierre said passage of the legislation made St. Lucia “part of history, and the history books will record that on the 28th of February, St. Lucia broke the shackles of colonialism”.
Earlier, another former prime minister, Stephenson King—a senior member of the present administration—said he was pleased the island was moving towards the regional court.
“This amendment is doing one simple thing and that is bringing justice to the people of St. Lucia and the Caribbean,” he said.
King said an ordinary person would need approximately EC$130,000 (One EC dollar = US$0.37) to access the Privy Council.
He said the ordinary man in the street was “begging for justice”:
“All he wants is an opportunity to reach the highest court as it exists,” King said. “As it exists now, it is not only far on distance but also far on costs. I am proud of this moment…which I believe will make the entire country proud moving forward.”
St. Lucia becomes the fifth CARICOM country to make the CCJ its final court, joining Barbados, Belize, Guyana and Dominica.
All 15 CARICOM countries also have signed on to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ, which also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement. —CASTRIES, St. Lucia (Peter Richards – CMC)