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Antiguan PM hints at calling off referendum on CCJ

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-3-59-37-pmFrom Jamaica Observer

ST JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) — The Antigua and Barbuda Government is hinting at the possibility of “calling off” the national referendum to determine whether or not the island should replace the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Appeal (CCJ) as its final court.

“We have always taken the position that we reserve the right to call off the referendum. So if per chance we do a poll later in the year and we are not up to the 67 per cent, we may just decide to call it off, I am not saying any such decision has been taken,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

In August, Browne said he had agreed to an opposition request to extend the timeframe for public discussions on the issue indicating that a referendum on the matter would now take place by March next year for the latest.

Winding up debate on the Constitutional Referendum Bill 2016, which he piloted, Browne said he hoped the extension is not being utilised to frustrate the process.

He said the referendum vote, which had originally been announced for October 27, would be extended “to early next year, January, February, perhaps no later than March of 2017”.

Browne on Friday said he also wanted to dismiss any notion that the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) is “going to be optimistic” about the CCJ matter “and to probably to suggest any failure would redound to their benefit, we pretty much can still determine whether or not we proceed with this”.

The prime minister added that the Barbados-based political scientist, Peter Wickham, head of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), had been contracted to conduct the poll.

But he said that another poll, which is expected to be conducted later this year, does not show the required 67 per cent support for the initiative, a decision will have to be made.

“We poll the CCJ, we are in a majority position in terms of support, but unfortunately we are not at the 67 per cent which means we have a significant amount of work to do and as you know we continue to pursue the public education of the CCJ to try and get up to the 67 per cent.

“The unfortunate thing about it is that people are voting along party lines and not based on the merit of completing this cycle of independence to have our own court,” he said, noting that he has not seen the commitment of the leadership of the opposition party to the initiative.

“I believe if they were serious about this transition that they would have taken a decision to commit the UPP and I will be writing to them to ask them for that level of commitment because it was never the intent for this to be the subject of any partisan politics, but for us to do it collectively and to share in the benefits”.

He said the Government is “not getting that shared responsibility from them and you can be assured that they will be challenged from that standpoint”.

The CCJ was established in 2001 to replace the Privy Council as the region’s final court, but while most of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are signatories to its Original Jurisdiction, only Barbados, Dominica, Guyana and Belize have signed on to the Appellate Jurisdiction. The CCJ also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional integration movement.

IMAGE: File Photo

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