Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister the Honourable Gaston Browne Monday held “lively discussions” with Opposition Leader the Honourable Baldwin Spencer on the move towards adopting the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the country’s final court replacing the London-based Privy Council.
PM Browne, speaking at a news conference following the talks, told reporters that Mr. Spencer had made a “number of recommendations which we are willing to take on board…including widening the coordinating committee to include wider stakeholdership”.
Browne said that the government has agreed to the proposal as the country continues with the preparation for a referendum to be held later this year.
Browne said that Spencer had also recommended giving consideration “to adding perhaps a couple of non-contentious issues to the CCJ.
“Initially our position was in order to get buy in to this process that we should limit it to a single issue. But if it is going to be a situation where we looking at a couple of non-contentious issues we are willing to do so.
“But we have indicated very clearly to the Honourable Leader of the Opposition that we would then expect that a full commitment from the United Progressive Party (UPP),” he said, adding that ‘the commitment we have had so far …is insufficient and they will now have to provide some level of leadership.
“What we are seeking here is a bipartisan initiative. It was never the intention of my government to go it alone and that is why we held the initial discussions about 18 months ago to make sure we have the full support of the United Progressive Party.”
PM Browne told reporters to get the 67 per cent support to pass the referendum “is unachievable unless we approach this issue on a bipartisan manner”.
PM Browne said that Mr. Spencer, who was also present at the news conference, had given a commitment to get the Opposition UPP to reconsider its position “because as you know the United progressive Party has said they will not support a CCJ as a final appellate court …
“We are prepared to give them a commitment to have comprehensive constitutional reform also a commitment that we will address the issues with our lower courts,” he said, acknowledging to deal with the lower courts “will take a significant amount of resources.(and) it is a matter now gaining the attention of the leaders of the OECS”.
PM Browne said he hoped when the referendum is held, people will vote on the issues and not on political affiliation.
Mr. Spencer told reporters that he wanted to make it “clear from the onset that the position of the United Progressive Party was clearly stated through the memorandum of understanding that we signed off to some time ago.
“That is still the position of the United Progressive Party (and) that the extent to which we are dealing with the Constitution that we need to deal with it in a holistic manner and so as we proceed to address the matter then we would be in a position to shift out those areas, the Prime Minister describes them as non-contentious areas….”
But he acknowledged ‘whatever it is, it is going to be critical going forward that some of these issues are brought to the forefront …and the other issues that may not hinge on constitutional reform via referendum but nevertheless would impact on the Constitution, these are things we have to look at”.
The former prime minister said that it would also be necessary ‘to find ways and means of at least satisfying the views and the feelings of the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
“What I am getting, what I am sensing is that the people do not see the CCJ in isolation with the other issues, they see them together and to the extent we are able to devise an approach which is inclusive and recognising the feelings, the views of the people out there …that those things would be looked at”.
Mr. Spencer reiterated that he is prepared to go back to the leadership of the opposition party “explain to them the outcome of these deliberations and to get a response.
“I would imagine that every effort would be made to deal with the situation because I do agree that this matter ought not to be approached from a party political stand point,” Spencer said.
Last year, Grenada voted to reject the CCJ, which was established in 2001 as its final court.
Most of the Caribbean countries have accepted the CCJ in its original jurisdiction that also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional integration movement.
(Reprinted from Peter Richards CMC)