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(CMC) – Almost nine years after a referendum seeking the public’s support to replace the London-based Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as St Vincent and the Grenadines’ final appeal court, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has signalled he is prepared to go to Parliament to change the Constitution to make it happen.
However, he has acknowledged he will need the backing of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and he has publicly called for that support.
Replacing the London-based Privy Council with the CCJ was among the changes to the Constitution that citizens rejected in a November 2009 referendum.
But addressing a ceremonial sitting of the CCJ at the House of Assembly in Kingstown on Friday afternoon to celebrate Vincentian Justice Adrian Saunders’ elevation to the office of CCJ president, Gonsalves said it has been determined that a referendum was not a requirement, and all that was needed was a two-thirds majority in Parliament to support the change in the Constitution that would make the move a reality.
Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) has eight of the 15 seats in Parliament, with the NDP holding the other seven. At least 10 votes in favour of the constitutional change would be required.
The prime minister therefore made a direct appeal to Opposition Leader Dr Godwin Friday who attended the special sitting.
“I don’t want to ambush him…But if they [the Opposition] are of the mind to join the government in passing a constitutional amendment to have the CCJ, I will find time on the Parliamentary agenda,” Gonsalves said.
“I am not fearful of going to the Parliament…We can have a free vote and see whether we have the majority.”
“For my part, I have no desire to linger, to loiter on colonial premises beyond closing time,” he added.
Prime Minister Gonsalves also defended the independence of the CCJ, dismissing the notion that the court is susceptible to political interference. He insisted that those responsible for setting up the court made certain to put in place features like the CCJ Trust Fund and the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) to safeguard the Court’s independence.