Tag Archives: Privy Council

Derek O’Brien: Judicial Independence in the Caribbean and Petitions Pursuant to Section 4 Judicial Committee Act

The case of Chief Justice of the Cayman Islands v The Governor and Judicial Legal Services Commission ([2012] UKPC 39) is, arguably, at least as interesting for the questions that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) did not answer as for the ones that it did and I will, therefore, address both in this blog. I will begin with a brief overview of the unanswered questions, which help to explain the context in which the questions that the Board did answer arose.

The first relates to the extension of the appointment of a Justice of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands. This is governed by s.96 of the Cayman Islands Constitution, which provides that the Governor may permit a judge of the Grand Court who has reached the age of 65 to continue in office until he has attained such later age, not exceeding the age of 70 years, as agreed between the judge concerned and the Governor, following the recommendation of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC). The JLSC is an independent body comprising one ex offico member, being the President of the Court of Appeal, and seven other members appointed by the Governor including: a chairman and one other member, appointed in consultation with the Premier and Leader of the Opposition; a senior judge with recent knowledge of Cayman’s courts; two senior judges from another Commonwealth country or Ireland; and two lawyers qualified to practice in the Cayman Islands. Members of the Legislative Assembly and candidates for elections are disqualified from membership of the JLSC.

Justice Henderson, a Justice of the Grand Court, whose appointment expired in June 2011, by which time he would have been older than 65 (his appointment having preceded the coming into force of the 2009 Constitution), had asked the Governor in December 2010 for an extension of his appointment. The Governor, in turn, sought the advice of the JLSC, which recommended that there was no basis upon which it was necessary in the interests of the administration of justice for Justice Henderson to continue in office beyond the age of retirement, and the Governor duly notified him that he would not be extending his appointment.  The Chief Justice objected to this decision, arguing that the JLSC had wrongly approached the question of the extension of Justice Henderson’s  appointment on the basis that it required ‘exceptional circumstances’ before an extension would be granted and, as a result, had reached an incorrect interpretation of s.96, bearing in mind the way that the section was expressed and the need to preserve judicial independence so that Justices of the Grand Court enjoyed security of tenure free from discretionary intrusion by the Executive.

The second question relates to the power of the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the JLSC, to exercise disciplinary control over judges. In early 2012, the JLSC published a Code of Conduct and a Complaints Procedure in relation to the Cayman Islands judiciary, which permits the JLSC after it has investigated a complaint against a judge to advise the Governor that the case calls for the exercise of such powers of disciplinary control short of removal from office as are conferred upon the Governor by s106 (1) of the Constitution, which empowers the Governor to exercise disciplinary control over the judiciary. The Chief Justice objected to this aspect of the Complaints Procedure on the ground that the Constitution did not permit the Governor to ‘impose disciplinary sanctions short of removal.’ I will return to both of these questions later, but first I must sketch out the background to the questions that were answered by the Board.

Ordinarily, it would be expected that in the first instance the two questions outlined above would have to be answered in the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands by way of judicial review proceedings. The Chief Justice, however, instead petitioned Her Majesty to refer the two questions directly to the JCPC for advice, which she did pursuant to pursuant to s.4 of the Judicial Committee Act 1833, which provides that:

 “It shall be lawful for his Majesty to refer to the …judicial committee for hearing or consideration any such other matters whatsoever as his majesty shall think fit; and such committee shall thereupon hear or consider the same, and shall advise his Majesty thereon in manner aforesaid.”

The Governor having objected to the substantive questions raised in the Petition being dealt with by the JCPC before they had been considered by the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands, the JCPC was obliged to consider whether  it was open to it to decline to rule on issues raised in a Petition referred to it by the Monarch and, if so, the circumstances in which it would be appropriate for it to do so?

In answer to the first of these questions the Board concluded that in the absence of any clear authority on the point it was open in principle to the Board to advise that it was inappropriate to provide substantive answers to the issues raised in a s.4 Petition, if it considered that this was the right course to take. Not only  would it be unattractive for a tribunal to be precluded by law from answering a question referred to it in terms which it considers to be right, but it was also highly unlikely that s.4 was intended to preclude the Board from considering this very issue.

This still left the question of whether this was the right course to take in the instant case and in the Board’s view it was because it would be inappropriate, in the absence of special factors, to consider issues raised in a s.4 petition when, as here, those issues could be raised in the first instance by way of ordinary proceedings in the courts of the territory in which the issues arose. This is, in part, because in a tiered court system the conclusions and reasonings of a higher tier court are likely to be better than that of a lower tier court, as the arguments of the parties tend to become refined and improved as the case progresses up the system, and the judges in a higher tier court benefit from the reasoning of the lower tier courts. It is also in part because respect for the courts of the territory concerned requires that they should have the opportunity to express a view before the JCPC is seised of the case.

But were there any special factors in the instant case, which might justify the questions raised by the petition being considered substantively by the JCPC?  In the Board’s view there were none. The Board was not persuaded by the Chief Justice’s argument that no permanent judge of the Grand Court could deal with the issues raised by the petition because they all supported the position of the Chief Justice and, besides, had an interest in the outcome. As the Board pointed out, it was open to the Governor to appoint a temporary judge under s.97 of the Constitution to hear the judicial review application; the Governor having made it clear that in such a case he would ask the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales to nominate a temporary judge for that purpose. The Board also rejected the Chief Justice’s other arguments, namely: that it would be difficult to find a suitable Court of Appeal panel; that the issues raised by the Petition were of such high constitutional importance that they ought to dealt with by the Board; that the Board ought to give weight to the wishes of the Chief Justice to have the Petition determined by the Board, and that it would save time and costs to do so. In the Board’s view, the fact that the matters raised were of high constitutional importance only reinforced their conclusion that they ought to be dealt with, initially, by the Grand Court; and whilst weight must be given to the Chief Justice’s wishes, this was counterbalanced by the fact that the Governor did not wish the Board to rule substantively on the Petition.

All of this means that the two substantive questions raised by the Petition will now have to be considered in the first instance by the Grand Court. In dealing with the first of these questions the Grand Court may wish to have regard to the constitutional position in other countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean.  In most of these there is simply no possibility of extending a judge’s appointment once they have reached retirement age save for example, for the purposes of delivering a judgment in proceedings that have already begun. This is presumably to avoid the incentive that the prospect of such an extension might offer to judges to hand down judgments that favour the government. However, in those few countries in which an extension of a judge’s appointment is permitted by the Constitution – The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize and the member states of the OECS (Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Kitts and St Vincent) – it is notable that there is considerably more political input than is contemplated by the provisions of the Cayman Constitution to which the Chief Justice objected . Thus, in the Bahamas and Barbados, decisions about extending a judge’s appointment are taken more or less exclusively by the Prime Minister. Though the Prime Minister is required to consult with the Leader of the Opposition this is usually no more than a formality. In Belize, decisions about the extension of the Chief Justice’s appointment are taken by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, and in the case of the other judges extensions are granted upon the advice of the JLSC, but require the concurrence of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Amongst the OECS countries the power to extend a judge’s appointment ostensibly lies with the JLSC, but the JLSC can only act with the concurrence of the Heads of Government of all the member states. Viewed from a comparative perspective then the position under the Cayman Constitution, where the extension of a judge’s appointment must have been recommended by the JLSC, arguably affords considerably more protection against political manipulation than is afforded in those neighboring countries that permit extensive Prime Ministerial input into decisions about the extension of a judge’s appointment.

The Chief Justice’s objection to the Governor’s powers to impose disciplinary sanctions upon a judge short of removal, however, looks at first glance much stronger from a comparative perspective, since such a power does not exist in any other Commonwealth Caribbean country. The closest parallel is, possibly, Guyana where a judge, who has persistently failed to give written or oral decisions and reasons for the decisions within the period prescribed by the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act 2009, may be notified that if he persists in his default action may be taken to remove him from office. However, it is arguable that at the time the independence constitutions of these countries were drafted there was a quite different understanding of the concept of judicial accountability and that they are not, therefore, the best guide to current practice.

If the Grand Court looks outside the Commonwealth Caribbean, however, it will see that a power to discipline judges short of removal from office exists in a number of common law countries, such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It might also note, however, that in these countries the disciplinary process short of removal is kept very much in-house, being administered entirely by the judiciary. This, at least, addresses the objection, based on the principle of the separation of powers, that the power to impose sanctions short of removal should not be vested in someone like the Governor, who is the Head of the Executive branch. But this is not the only possible objection to the existence of such a power, which has also been criticised by some for having a chilling effect on the capacity of judges to render impartial justice because it invites dissatisfied litigants to harass judges who rule against them (Irving R Kaufman, ‘The Essence of Judicial Independence,’ Columbia Law Review, Vol.80, No.4 671-701).

It remains to be seen whether the Chief Justice’s objections are upheld by the Grand Court. It seems likely, however, based on constitutional practice elsewhere in the Commonwealth Caribbean, that the Grand Court will not regard the involvement of the Governor in decisions about a the extension of a judge’s appointment as fatal. Moreover, while there may be principled objections to the imposition of sanctions upon judges short of removal, precedents for the existence of such a power can be found in a number of other jurisdictions, including the UK.

Derek O’Brien is Principal Lecturer, Law School, Oxford Brookes University.

Suggested citation: D. O’Brien, ‘Judicial Independence in the Caribbean and Petitions Pursuant to Section 4 Judicial Committee Act’,  UK Const. L. Blog (20th November 2012) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org).

1 Comment

Filed under Comparative law, Judiciary

Derek O’Brien and Se-shauna Wheatle: The Commonwealth Caribbean and the Uses and Abuses of Comparative Constitutional Law

The practice of judges engaging in a transnational judicial conversation about constitutional rights, by referring to the judgments of international human rights courts and other constitutional courts when interpreting their own domestic Bills of Rights, has been commented upon in detail by comparative constitutional law scholars, such as Christopher McCrudden and Anne-Marie Slaughter[1]. It still remains, however, a highly contested practice. Supporters of this practice, such as Vicki Jackson, argue that such transnational judicial conversations enhance understandings of core concepts, such as equality and human dignity, while critics, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, complain that they aid result-oriented reasoning as judges use comparative law selectively depending upon the result that the court wishes to reach. The scope for judges in the Commonwealth Caribbean, (which term includes the judges of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), and the judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice in the case of those countries that have ratified its appellate jurisdiction – Guyana, Barbados and Belize) to engage in a transnational judicial conversation when interpreting their own domestic Bill of Rights has, however, been severely restricted by the inclusion in their Independence Constitutions of general and partial savings law clauses.

General savings law clauses (which are to be found in the Constitutions of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, The Bahamas and Guyana) afford immunity from constitutional challenge to all laws that were in force at the time of Independence. It has thus been, effectively, pointless for judges in these  Commonwealth Caribbean states to invoke jurisprudential developments in international human rights law (such as Dudgeon v UK (1982) 4 EHRR 149 and Tyrer v UK (1978) 2 EHRR 1)  and other national courts (such as Lawrence v Texas 123 S. Ct. 2472 (2003))  when determining the constitutionality of pre-independence laws; including laws that provide for the death penalty for murder, judicial flogging or the criminalisation of sexual relations between men. Notwithstanding changing judicial attitudes toward such laws elsewhere, the JCPC confirmed in Boyce v The Queen [2004] UKPC 32; [2004] 3 W.L.R. 786 that when interpreting the Constitutions of the Commonwealth Caribbean judges were bound by the inclusion of general savings law clauses and could not rely on judicial developments elsewhere when determining the constitutionality of pre-independence laws.

Partial savings law clauses (which are to be found in the Constitutions of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia) preserve all forms of punishment that were authorised as lawful prior to independence. These clauses have been tested most frequently in cases concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty. Originally, it was thought that these clauses precluded any possible challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty on the ground, for example, that it violated the guarantee against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. However, in a series of judgments, beginning with its landmark decision in Pratt and Morgan v. AG (Jamaica) [1994] 2 A.C. 1 the JCPC found a way of circumventing these partial saving law clauses by insisting that their effect is confined to authorising descriptions of punishment for which the court may pass sentence.  Accordingly, they do not prevent an applicant from arguing that the circumstances in which the executive intend to carry out the sentence, including, in that case, prolonged delay, may violate the right not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In Lewis v AG Jamaica [2000] 3W.L.R. 1785 the JCPC added that in extreme circumstances account might also be taken of the conditions under which a condemned prisoner was being held in determining whether the execution of the death sentence would violate the guarantee against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. And finally, in Queen v Hughes [2002] 2 A.C. 259, the JCPC held that a pre-independence law, which prescribed a mandatory death penalty for the offence of murder, was not saved by the partial saving laws clause in the Constitution of St Lucia on the ground that the clause only saved existing laws to the extent that such laws authorise the infliction of the death penalty: they could not save an existing law which prescribed a mandatory death penalty, since this requires the infliction of the death penalty.

In each of these cases the JCPC supported its decisions by reference to the growing body of comparative and international jurisprudence condemning, for example, delay in the carrying out the death penalty (including judgments of the Supreme Courts of Zimbabwe and India as well as the judgment of the ECtHR in Soering v UK (1989) 11 E.H.R.R. 439)andthe imposition of a mandatory death penalty for murder, which had been held to be arbitrary and inhuman by both the United State Supreme Court (Woodson v State of North Carolina 428 U.S. 280 (1976) and the Supreme Court of India (Mithu v State of Punjab [1983] 2 S.C.R. 690). These developments were, however, viewed with the utmost dismay by Commonwealth Caribbean governments and a number have, accordingly, responded by seeking to further immunise the operation of the death penalty and to prevent constitutional challenges based on judicial developments in other jurisdictions, including the above.

The first Government to act was Barbados, which, in 2002, amended its Constitution to ensure that prisoners who had been sentenced to a mandatory death penalty, who had suffered delay in the carrying out of their execution, or who were held in inhuman or degrading prison conditions, would not be able to mount a constitutional challenge on the grounds that their right not be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment had been violated.[2] In 2011, the Government of Trinidad sought and narrowly failed to secure an amendment to its Constitution (Trinidad Constitution (Amendment) (Capital Offences) Bill 2011) which would have gone even further than this by additionally precluding a constitutional challenge on the ground that the warrant for the execution of the sentence of death had been read to the condemned man on more than one occasion.

Most recently, the Jamaican Government has amended its Bill of Rights by replacing it in its entirety with a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the Charter seeks to expand rights protection in certain areas, it also seeks to prevent its judges from entertaining constitutional challenges to laws that authorise the death penalty for capital crimes, that criminalise consensual sexual relations between adult men, or which discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. With respect to the death penalty, the Joint Select Committee (JSC) which had been appointed by the Government to approve the terms of the draft Charter explicitly acknowledged the developments in other jurisdictions, such as South Africa (State v Makwanyane 1995 (6)BCLR 665 (CC)) and Tanzania (Mbushu v Republic (1995) 1 LRC 216), where their judges had been allowed to engage in an extensive discourse about the constitutionality of the death penalty, but recommended the retention of the partial savings law clause in the new Charter to ensure that this question remained outwith the jurisdiction of Jamaican judges and the judges of the JCPC, which continues to be Jamaica’s final court of appeal. The Charter also expressly precludes constitutional challenges based on delay in carrying out the death sentence or the physical conditions or arrangements under which the condemned person is detained.

As noted above, the Charter is not only concerned with the operation of the death penalty. It also seeks  to preclude the possibility of jurisprudential developments elsewhere resulting in a challenge to the constitutionality of laws that criminalise consensual sexual relations between adult men, or which discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. This concern is particularly relevant in light of growing international pressure repeal to anti-sodomy laws. This pressure recently appeared in the form of a report of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons group, which recommended the repeal of anti-sodomy laws in the 41 Commonwealth countries where such laws remain on the statute books. While the Jamaican Government could not have been aware of the report, since the Charter was drafted long before the publication of the report, it is clear that the Government was aware of the possibility that the Charter might conceivably be used as a ground for challenging the constitutionality of such laws. Indeed, the prescience of the Jamaican Government is amply demonstrated by the recent announcement of the Human Dignity Trust (HDT) that it plans to intervene to support a constitutional challenge to the anti-sodomy law in Belize initiated by a Belizean gay rights activist. (see a report in The Guardian). In order to foreclose the possibility of such a challenge being mounted in Jamaica the Charter includes a general saving laws clause which provides that nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law in force immediately before the commencement of the Charter, relating to, inter alia, sexual offences, shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of the provisions of the Charter. Thus, on the basis that it was in force before the commencement of the Charter, section 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act which criminalises sexual activity between men appears to be immune from constitutional challenge.

Concerned also that, in the alternative, the guarantee of equality contained in section 13 (2) (i) of the Charter might provide a ground for mounting a constitutional challenge to other laws, including post-Charter laws, that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the JSC expressly rejected a proposal to include the term ‘sex’ as a prohibited ground of discrimination, for fear that it might be interpreted to include sexual orientation. . Thus, the Charter instead opts for the much clumsier term, ‘being male or female.’ Finally, and for good measure, the Jamaican Government has sought to repel the potential influence of judicial developments with regard to same-sex marriage elsewhere. For example, in, Goodridge v Mass. Dept. of Health 798 N.E. 2d 941, in which the Massachusetts Supreme court legalized same sex-marriages within that state, Halpern v Ontario 65 O.R. (3d) 161, in which the Court of Appeal of Ontario held that the opposite-sex requirement for marriage in that state was unconstitutional, and Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie (2006)  (3) BCLR 355 (CC), in which the Constitutional Court of South Africa held that the exclusion of same-sex couples from the common law definition of marriage was unconstitutional. Accordingly, section 18 of the Charter provides that no law which restricts marriage as limited to one man and to one woman shall be held to be inconsistent with the Charter.


To paraphrase Joseph Jaconneli, the effect of the saving laws clauses of the Independence Constitutions of the Commonwealth Caribbean was to ‘crystallise’ their Bills of Rights. This may originally have been justified on the ground that in the immediate post-independence period the saving laws clauses guaranteed legal stability by ensuring that existing laws were not subject to constitutional challenge. It is, however, now nearly half a century since the first countries in the region gained independence and the retention of these saving laws clauses can no longer be justified by reference to the need for stability. Instead, it is clear from the examples of Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica, that Commonwealth Caribbean governments are all too aware of the developments that have been taking place in international human rights law and in constitutional courts around the world, but do not want their judges to be able to rely on these developments when interpreting their own Bills of Rights.  In the case of Jamaica, which is the only country to date to undertake a wholesale review of its Bill of Rights, the Government has seized the opportunity, not for the purpose of removing the offending savings laws clauses, but instead to further insulate existing laws relating to the operation of the death penalty and sexual orientation by placing them beyond judicial scrutiny and thus beyond the reach of comparative constitutional law.

Derek O’Brien is Principal Lecturer, Law School, Oxford Brookes University.
Se-shauna Wheatle is a DPhil Candidate at Balliol College, and Lecturer in Law, Exeter College, University of Oxford.

[1]             Christopher McCrudden, ‘A Common Law of Human Rights: Transnational Judicial Conversations on Constitutional Rights’ (2000) 20 OJLS 499; Anne-Marie Slaughter, ‘Judicial Globalization’ (2000) 40 Va. J. Int’l L. 1103.

[2] Constitution (Amendment) Act 2002


Filed under Caribbean, Comparative law, Constitutional reform, Human rights