CCJ records significant decline in new matters amid COVID-19 pandemic

…majority of appeals were from Guyana, Barbados

The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has recorded a significant decline in new matters due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with matters from Guyana and Barbados accounting for more than half of the cases filed in its Appellate Jurisdiction.
This was detailed in the regional court’s annual report for 2019-2020 which was released earlier this month. The CCJ said that while it was able to ensure that the court’s business continued, a general assumption may be that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted domestic courts’ ability to ensure that matters progress onward to the CCJ in the usual manner of their operations.
The CCJ anticipates this impact may well be manifested in the 2020-2021 reporting period, as the domestic judiciaries and litigants regain the wherewithal to progress the matters filed for disposition. Notwithstanding, the CCJ assured that it is prepared for the significant peak in the volume of new cases likely in the forthcoming period.

In its Appellate Jurisdiction, the CCJ is the final court of appeal for criminal and civil matters for Guyana, Barbados, Belize, and Dominica.
The report said that there was a 59 per cent decrease in new matters filed in the court’s Appellate Jurisdiction for the 2019-2020 reporting period compared to the previous year, 2018-2019.
In the reporting period of August 1, 2019 – July 31, 2020, 60 per cent of the matters were civil, while 40 per cent were criminal. A total of 15 matters were filed – 14 Applications for Special Leave and a Notice of Appeal.
Seven of the cases filed were from Barbados, three from Belize, one from Dominica, and four from Guyana.
For the previous reporting year, 2018-2019, the CCJ reported a 15 per cent increase in the number of matters filed in its Appellate Jurisdiction when compared to the previous year. During 2018-2019, 37 matters were filed with the court.
Of the 37 matters, 25 represented Applications for Special Leave, while the remaining 12 accounted for Notices of Appeal. Twenty cases or 54 per cent were filed from Guyana, 11 cases or 30 per cent from Barbados, four or 11 per cent from Belize, and two or five per cent from Dominica.
Meanwhile, in its Original Jurisdiction, the CCJ is an international court with exclusive jurisdiction to interpret and apply the rules set out in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) and to decide disputes arising under it. The RTC established the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
In its Original Jurisdiction, the CCJ is critical to the CSME and all 12 member states which belong to the CSME (including their citizens, businesses, and governments) can access the Court’s Original Jurisdiction to protect their rights under the RTC.
For 2019-2020, there was a 70 per cent decrease in new matters filed for the reporting period of August 1, 2019 – July 31, 2020, in the Court’s Original Jurisdiction compared to the previous year, 2018-2019.
During 2019-2020, one matter each was filed from Barbados, Dominica, and Guyana. Of these, two were disposed. The court’s 2018-2019 annual report said there was a significant increase of 70 per cent in the filing of new cases in the Original Jurisdiction.
For that reporting period, a total of 10 matters were filed. Four from Trinidad and Tobago, two from Grenada, and one each from Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, and St Lucia.

Critical case
In a critical case of international, regional, and national interest, dubbed the “Guyana Election case” filed against Eslyn David and others, the CCJ had to determine a challenge on the credibility of the recount, undertaken by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), of the votes cast at the General and Regional Elections held on March 2, 2020.
Among other things, the CCJ held that “valid votes”, which determine the election of the members of the National Assembly as well as the winning presidential candidate, are obtained by a transparent exercise described in the Representation of the People Act.
It noted that any further question of the validity of a vote must be pursued through the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 163 after the elections have been concluded and the winners declared.
By its decision, the CCJ held that the Guyana Court of Appeal impliedly invited the Chief Elections Officer to engage unilaterally in an unlawful validation exercise that trespassed on that exclusive jurisdiction.
The court also considered the history of Article 177(4) and held that David’s application was premature as it was always intended that questions as to the validity of the election of a President could arise only after the members of the National Assembly had been elected and a presidential candidate had been deemed and declared to be President.
As David’s application did not trigger the provisions of Article 177(4), the CCJ ruled that the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to make the orders that were made, and the finality clause was inoperable.
The CCJ thus had jurisdiction to hear and determine the appeal and ordered that both the decision of the Court of Appeal and the report of the Chief Election Officer, which was based on it, were of no effect.