Shanique Myrie's Case: A Big Test For CARICOM And The CCJ

Shanique Myrie

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)  adjourned its first sitting in Jamaica in the Shanique Myrie case this morning after lawyers representing the Jamaican Government presented their case.

The CCJ has been sitting at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston since Monday, to hear Myrie's case against the Barbadian government.

Last year the CCJ, which is based in Port of Spain, Trinidad, sat in Barbados, to hear the complaint of Shanique Myrie.

At the end of hearing in Jamaica, the interesting development is that during cross-examination, deputy director for immigration at the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, Ephieum Allen, conceded that the number of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals denied entry to Jamaica and Barbados in the last five years were not far apart.

Allen also conceded that there was not much difference in the vetting process used in both countries. 

Of course, this is a statement about denied entry and the vetting process and not necessarily about more subtle discrimination that some travelers allege they encounter, especially when transiting Grantley Adams International Airport to other destinations.

The case is scheduled to resume on March 18  to 22 in Barbados, where the CCJ will hear submissions from the lawyers representing the Barbadian Government.
To restate the basis for the case: Twenty five year old Myrie alleges that when she traveled to Barbados on March 14, 2011 she was discriminated against because of her nationality, subjected to a body cavity search, subjected to derogatory remarks by a Barbadian Immigration officer, detained overnight in a cell and deported to Jamaica the following day.
In what has been called the "finger rape case,"  Shanique Myrie has taken the Barbadian Government to the CCJ on allegations that she was discriminated against because of her nationality and sexually assaulted by an immigration officer during a visit to Barbados in March 2011.
Myrie has become an iconic figure as she tests the viability of CARICOM and the CCJ court. She wants the CCJ to determine the minimum standard of treatment to be given to CARICOM nationals, moving within the region under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and its goal of hassle-free travel.

Last April, legal costs were awarded to Myrie after the Barbadian government conceded that she had a case. The case gained significance when the Jamaican Government joined the case on the side of Shanique Myrie.

The Jamaican Government asserts substantial legal interest in the case because, it argues, any judgment that is rendered will establish a binding precedent for all CARICOM member states. The CCJ agreed with Jamaica's position in a preliminary hearing, in October 2012.

While most observers see the case as a test case for CARICOM and its raison d'etre of integration, free travel, and free trade among its 15 member countries, it is also fundamentally a test case for CCJ court itself. How the young court, which was founded in 2005, conducts the case could well determine whether or not it survives as a viable institution.

The CCJ was established to replace the London-based Privy Council as the Caribbean region’s final court of appeal. It has both an original and appellate jurisdiction and also serves as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy that allows for free movement within the region.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has pledged to make the country a republic and to switch from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London to the (CCJ) as Jamaica's highest court of appeal.

The opposition Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) wants to resolve both issues with a national referendum. The justice Minister Mark Golding says there is no need for a referendum and a two-thirds majority vote in parliament will suffice. 

This has led to a raging debate as a significant proportion of the Jamaican population is skeptical about adopting the CCJ and terminating the relationship with the "tried and true" Privy Council. Regardless of whether Jamaican disposition results from big island chauvinism, colonial mentality or other reasons, some Jamaicans are reluctant to put  local justice in the hands of their fellow Caribbean nationals.

The CCJ also suffers from an image problem in Jamaica because, despite the dire economic state of the Government of Jamaica, the Government has been providing financial support for the CCJ court long before having any representation on it.

The Myrie case has been covered extensively in Jamaica and has earned a lot of empathy for Ms Myrie among the population. A significant portion of the population may now identify with her position and therefore see themselves as having a stake in the outcome of her case.

Some Jamaicans may see a Myrie loss as a denial of justice and an insult to Jamaicans which would burnish the case for retaining the Privy Council. Any vote against abolishing the Privy Council, whether by referendum or in Parliament would be a huge setback to the CCJ as well as the entire CARICOM integration effort.

The timing of the Myrie case poses great difficulty for the CCJ and its judges. No doubt the judges are well aware of the explosive nature of the case and that justice served may not do justice for the CCJ court.