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UWI lecturer commends CCJ ruling on voter rights of Commonwealth citizen

Monday, May 21, 2018

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — A senior lecturer at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has welcomed the ruling of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) regarding the registration of Commonwealth citizens to be included in the voters list ahead of the May 24 general election here.

St Lucian academic, Professor Eddy Ventose had challenged the decision of the electoral authorities here to deny him the opportunity to be registered even though he has been resident in the country for several years.

The matter was heard during an unprecedented sitting of the Court, two Sundays ago.

In its ruling, the CCJ, which is Barbados's final court, said that the “long standing policy of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission in relation to Commonwealth citizens to register as electors … is unlawful and ultra vires.

“The Court is satisfied that on the basis of judicial finding pronounced in this matter, which has not been appealed, the applicant has satisfied the necessary legal and regulatory conditions for registration as an elector,” the CCJ ruled, threatening to jail the Chief Electoral Officer, Angela Taylor, if she failed to obey the ruling.

Dr Wendy C Grenade, a senior lecturer in Political Science in the Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology, said the “CCJ must be commended for acting with a sense of urgency in the Ventose case.

“Its responsiveness in dispensing justice to Professor Ventose and by extension to other Commonwealth Caribbean citizens in Barbados, must be applauded. The CCJ also promoted transparency in its deliberations by utilising technology to livestream the court session.

“This was a sophisticated act of techno-democracy, where the CCJ bridged the divide between itself and ordinary Caribbean people. The virtual court demystified lofty judicial proceedings. This was quite refreshing and reassuring, particularly for some who question the efficacy of the CCJ,” she said.

The lecturer said that the rule of law is a central pillar of any well-functioning democracy and that when state officials ignore or seek to frustrate rulings of the court, justice is denied and democratic norms are ruptured.

“The CCJ must be commended for demonstrating its judicial independence by protecting the rights of Commonwealth Caribbean citizens from the arbitrary exercise of power by a Caribbean state.
“The CCJ's warning that Barbados' Chief Electoral Officer will be imprisoned and/or fined if she does not comply with its ruling, sends a strong signal of its seriousness of purpose and its intention to apply the full extent of the law to ensure justice for Caribbean citizens. It also demonstrates that the state is not above the law and that state officials can be held accountable for their actions.”
She said that the Ventose case is also significant because it demonstrates the importance of judicial review as a critical means through which citizens can claim legal redress against laws or policies that infringe on their rights.

“Judicial review is a powerful weapon available to citizens in their battle for rights and justice. One can argue that, given the remoteness of the Privy Council and the relatively high costs associated with taking matters to the UK-based court, judicial review has not been a norm in the Caribbean's legal praxis.

“However, the proximity of the CCJ to the Caribbean's reality, provides impetus for increased citizen activism through judicial review. Professor Ventose must be complimented for channelling his legal skill to an activist cause,” she added.

The lecturer said that beyond the legal question, a major implication of the Ventose judgement is that Caribbean people who reside in other Caribbean territories must feel a sense of belonging to the Caribbean sister state where they live, work and pay taxes.

“The right to vote, as contentious as it may be, is one of the most cherished democratic rights, particularly for people whose history has been replete with oppression and denial of suffrage. The CCJ's judgement in this case has affirmed the enfranchisement of the Caribbean “other”.

“Fifty odd years after independence, it is encouraging that an indigenous Caribbean Court can do so. This renews hope in the promise of regionalism.

“The ruling in this case is a victory not only for Commonwealth Caribbean citizens in Barbados but for Caribbean jurisprudence, Caribbean democracy and regional integration. It reinforces the urgency for other CARICOM countries to put systems in place to accede to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction.' To date, only Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana have done so, although, except for the Bahamas, Haiti and Montserrat, all other CARICOM countries are members of the CCJ in its original jurisdiction.

The Grenada-born lecturer said that importantly, “this landmark judgement is most timely for Grenada as that country seeks to re-open the conversation on another referendum to facilitate Grenada's accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ, replacing the UK-based Privy Council as Grenada's highest Court of Appeal”.

She said the case “highlights several benefits of the CCJ, which should be the catalyst of a YES campaign going forward”.

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