In a statement Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar said that the Opposition would come to the defence of the Judiciary against “any and every attempt at harassment and intimidation” from the Government. She was speaking on the Caribbean Court of Justice Bill, which the UNC was opposing in the House of Representatives yesterday. Her remarks were met with silence from Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Attorney General John Jeremie, but there was table-thumping from her colleagues. Persad-Bissessar paid tribute to members of the local Judiciary, whom, she said were dispensing justice fairly. They were the guardians of democracy and the soul of the nation, she said. She said it was the Judiciary that prevented the “soul of the nation” from being stolen.
She also criticised the composition of the CCJ, saying it did not reflect the population of the Caribbean. “You have appointed six judges. We are living in a country — and they say we calling race, but this is blatant. But not a single one of Indo-Trinidadian or Indian origin,” she said to supportive table-thumping. “How can that be when half the population in this country is of Indian origin? How do you expect them to have confidence in a court of that nature?” “It is the region we talking about,” Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis countered. However, Persad-Bissessar was equally quick on the draw.
“You have Suriname, Guyana. “You are giving strength to the argument (that the CCJ does not reflect the composition of the population of the region)” she said. She also criticised the process of appointment of the CCJ judges, saying the Caribbean heads of government had steadfastly taken control of the appointment, the discipline and the removal of the president of the CCJ. The method of appointment makes its appointees susceptible to political influence, she contended.
She said the brevity of the terms of office — two years in the case of the president and three years in the case of members of the Regional Judicial and Legal Service Commission ( RJLSC) — also ensured political dominance and dependence. Their tenure would fall within the purview of the sitting government. Persad-Bissessar noted that the heads of government, through their constitutional control over appointments in the local public service commissions and other commissions, also had the indirect power to appoint five members of the RJLSC, which in turn appoints the judges. She predicted that the Caribbean Court of Justice would become the Caribbean Court of Injustice.