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The cross-Caribbean hearings of the Shanique Myrie case have given the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) much-needed and well-deserved prominence as a forum where the average Caricom citizen can seek legal protection and redress. While the CCJ has had some impact on the life of the region, none of the cases that have come before it has excited the public imagination as much as the discrimination and sexual assault case of Shanique Myrie vs Barbados.

Given the transnational nature of the case, which involves allegations by a Jamaican woman against Barbadian authorities before a court based in Trinidad and Tobago, the CCJ took a historic decision to conduct its hearings in Jamaica and Barbados before final presentations in Port of Spain last week. Its willingness to move from island to island to spare witnesses the expense and inconvenience of travel, demonstrated an admirable flexibility and people-centred approach to conducting its business.

In so doing, it has also underscored the unique nature of a regional court that is willing to surmount the geographical challenges of serving the people of Caricom.

This has been especially important, given the potent human issues involved in a case which has drawn the attention of people across the region. Whether well-founded or not, Ms Myrie’s claim of having suffered discrimination at the hands of immigration officials in Barbados has resonated among Caricom citizens whose personal experience of regional travel has deepened their cynicism over Caricom’s failure to deliver on the promise of free movement in an integrated region.

The two days of hearings in Port of Spain last week also occasioned a reminder that the CCJ, though based here at the request of this country, is still not utilised by Trinidad and Tobago as its final court of appeal. For more than a decade, T&T has carried the cost of headquartering the CCJ without deriving its value, appropriateness and usefulness as a replacement for the Privy Council. For a fleeting moment last year, the People’s Partnership government raised hopes when it proposed using the CCJ for some final appeals. It remains unclear what level of follow through has taken place on that matter and what response, if any, the government has to the calls from several quarters for full embrace of the CCJ and complete delinking from the Privy Council. If nothing else, the Shanique Myrie case is now likely to intensify the lobby for full acceptance of the CCJ given the prohibitively high cost to the average citizen of taking cases to the Privy Council in England.

This newspaper was among those that congratulated the prime minister when she stepped forward to announce her government’s decision to embrace the CCJ even though we questioned the preference for doing so on a phased basis. Since then, however, we have seen no evidence of action to give effect to the decision. Until that happens, the CCJ will remain for this country, another wasted opportunity and waste of taxpayers’ money.

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