Orville Taylor | CCJ or bust
If you completed your high school education here in the 1970s or 1980s you already got an elite education, which put you in a range way past the average American or British citizen of that epoch.
It’s no accident that Tanya Chutkan, the judge presiding over the trial of the century, has trumped all naysayers; because she got a solid foundation in Jamaica.
An ironic blessing is that the majority of our attorneys and judges came through a very inequitable educational system, whereby most persons with great intellectual and academic potential do not reach the pinnacle. As strange as it might sound, despite the increase in university education across the region and in particular Jamaica, the Anglophone Caribbean has the lowest university level enrolment in the hemisphere. This simply tells you that only the best of the best managed to go to university and in this discriminatory environment there is a painful culling process, resulting in very tiny minority completing their education at the Norman Manley, Sir Hugh Wooding or Eugene Dupuch law schools.
All attorneys certified in other jurisdictions have to pass through one of those three institutions in order to be qualified to practise in Jamaica.
There is a line of dozens of persons with Bachelors of Law degrees from other institutions, apart from The University of the West Indies (UWI), who may never become attorneys in Jamaica, simply because they cannot make the cut to enter Norman Manley Law School.
Thus, to become an attorney and then a judge on this Little Rock in the turquoise Caribbean Sea, is almost as difficult as the camel, rich man and needle eye. True, it is my considered opinion that UWI graduates get a discriminatory and possibly unconstitutional advantage, emanating from the 50-year-old Treaty of Chaguaramas. However, that is a discussion for another time.
BEST IN THE WORLD
Despite the inherent imperfections in any system created by man, the selection process for our judges is one of the best in the world. One will recall the furore in 2018, when there seemed to be undue delay and strange conditionalities connected to the appointment of now Chief Justice Brian Sykes.
Unlike the USA, where a person’s political leaning may be of consequence when being appointed to the highest court in that jurisdiction, any political bias would be inimical to the appointment of any of our judges.
One should not take lightly the fact that in the USA, which is the poster child of international democracy and judicial transparency, at least half of all High Court judges are directly elected via the same kinds of processes that politicians are. The inherent weakness in this model is obvious, because it creates vulnerability to contributors to their campaigns.
For the past eight years since Transparency International (TI) published its Global Corruption Barometer, I have been the only journalist who thought it important to note that despite the high level of corruption perception, actual reports of dishonesty by our public officials is relatively low by international standards.
Not one single journalist or attorney, bar none, paid any attention to the question about whether or not the surveyed individuals had ever paid a bribe to a judge. Everyone joined in riding the hobby horse Constabulary, without accepting the fact that only 12 per cent of Jamaicans reported paying or knowing of a payment of a bribe to any police officer. Other research teams, including one from Vanderbilt University in the USA and a USAID group, reported that less than 10 per cent of Jamaicans experienced corruption victimisation.
According to that TI report, six per cent of Jamaicans reported paying a bribe to members of the judiciary. And whomever is upset over this evaluation, or my comment on it, may choose to do what was done to Marcus Garvey for raising similar questions in 1929.
Compared to 15 per cent for the US, where at least 50 per cent of High Court judges are directly elected, this should be something to feel proud about rather than be disgruntled by a social scientist, who like lawyers and doctors defend the integrity of his profession.
Jump to the UK and be flabbergasted that 21 per cent of His Majesty’s subjects reported passing filthy lucre to ‘Your[dis]honour or Milord [have mercy]. These are not my numbers; they were published by the same research entity in the same report that said that large numbers of Jamaicans believed that their society was corrupt.
Ignorance is bliss. And similar to many sheep being unwilling to suffer the inconvenience of simply reading the Bible for themselves, many of us romance the negative grand narratives about ourselves.
Bet you, that if the dual issue of the removal of the monarchy as our head of state and republic status, and the replacement of the UK-based Privy Council with a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) were not such a political football we would have gone the direction of both long ago.
Last year a slight majority of us wanted to see the replacement of the monarchy. This year it is down from 55 to 45 per cent. Thankfully, according to the last RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson poll, 59 per cent of us want the CCJ.
Apart from some of the mysteries regarding the West Indies cricket team, and a few important glitches in the governance structure of the UWI itself, the English-speaking Caribbean is one of the best exemplars of democracy.
Jamaica, with universal adult suffrage since 1944, Trinidad since 1945, Barbados since 1951 and Guyana since 1953, all elected governments based on the principle of one person one vote without restrictions before the USA and Canada, the two major democracies in the hemisphere who speak our language.
Drop our ‘Sir’, ‘Dame’ and ‘KC’ and step up the public education. Possibly, because Barbados is a more educated population, they were able to do it in a flash, but let’s end the nonsense now because neither Prime Minister Andrew Holness nor Opposition Leader Mark Golding would dare to suggest that the British are better at running this country than them.
Moreover, there is absolutely no question about the integrity and ability of Sykes and the large body of judges he leads. Of course, nothing is perfect and I know at least one judge who seems to be reserving brain matter for use later in life.
Nevertheless, the ‘S’ in island is silent. This is I and ‘I land’.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.