Editorial: CCJ as the Caribbean’s court of last resort on the Case of Shanique Myrie vs. Barbados
The language used and the reasoning of the Caribbean Court of Justice were quite straightforward, sufficient for the average person on the street to understand.
“The right is part of a broader concept of the movement of Caricom nationals within the Community and that concept entails the right of Community nationals to have unrestricted access to, and movement within, the jurisdiction of the member-states, subject to public interest considerations,” was the way the CCJ put it in its landmark decision in a case brought by Shanique Myrie against Barbados.
The CCJ got it right and in the process demonstrated that the region’s top court is capable of and can be relied upon to be fair, competent and independent in its interpretation of the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chagaruamas. We feel it can resolve with aplomb any legal issue that arises in the Caribbean, no questions asked.
Ms. Myrie, a Jamaican had tried to enter Barbados on March 14, 2011 but was barred from doing on the grounds that she “had told lies to the immigration officials as to the identity of her host in Barbados.” Not only that. She was subjected to a “painful and humiliating body cavity search by a Barbadian border official upon her arrival at the Sir Grantley Adams International Airport.” Just as bad, she was detained in an unsanitary detention room before she deported.
That’s no way to treat anyone.
After an exhaustive legal process during which the judges of the court headed by Sir Denis Byron, a legal luminary by any definition, the CCJ ruled for Ms. Myrie, ordered Barbados to pay her (US)$ 38,620 in damages. However, it rejected her claim that she was denied entry because she was a Jamaican, a spurious claim, and the judges turned aside her request for the equivalent of (US) $ 500,000 in damages.
But the court didn’t stop there. It ordered Barbados to bring its immigration laws into line with the provisions of the Caricom Treaty and it laid out some useful conditions which each signatory of the regional pact must put in place when dealing with Caricom nationals.
For instance, the CCJ, quite rightly, acknowledged the right of a country to restrict the entry of a person in the interest of public morals, national security and safety, and national health. But the visitor must present a genuine and sufficiently serious threat “affecting one of the fundamental interests of society” to be denied entry. That didn’t happen in Myrie’s case. In addition, some clear steps must be taken by immigration officials when denying entry, such as providing the visitor with a written explanation of the reasons for the action. It certainly shouldn’t be left to the whims and fancies of officials as happened with the Jamaican.
The sound CCJ judgment was good for the young Jamaican woman; the region as a whole; and for the CCJ itself. The only loser was Barbados, and the loss was justified.
Ms. Myrie was obviously mistreated by the authorities in Barbados but she showed remarkable strength and courage by taking her case to the court, despite the innuendos emanating from Barbados and from some nationals of her own country.
Clearly, Barbados mishandled the case from the get go. When Jamaica lodged its initial complaint to the government in Bridgetown, complaining about Myrie’s treatment, the Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs was too cavalier in its response, rejecting the claims out of hand and seemingly downgraded them and the official diplomatic note from a neighbor to a piece of paper. It was a disrespectful reaction by the Ministry and its top officials who should have known better. We trust the CCJ decision would encourage the Barbados government to take a much more respectful stance in the future. Jamaica, on the other hand, acted with common sense, deciding to let the judges determine the outcome.
It was ironic that a country which has dragged its feet on accepting the CCJ as its final court, preferring instead to keep the Privy Council in London as its final arbiter should have been the first to initiate an action that went to the heart of the fundamental issue of freedom of movement in the Caribbean. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the countries in the Eastern Caribbean which have not accepted the CCJ’s appellate jurisdiction should do so in a hurry. It’s untenable, for instance, that Jamaica which played a vital role in the creation of the University of the West Indies Law School and Trinidad and Tobago where the regional court has its headquarters can’t bring themselves to accept the CCJ as their court of last resort. It says a lot about our self-confidence or lack of it that they continue to hang on to the vestiges of a colonial era. It is terribly tragic that the two countries, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago which were the first to break the colonial chain in the region more than half a century ago haven’t followed Guyana, Barbados and Belize in recognizing the legitimacy and competence of the judges, one of whom is a Jamaican.
Another thing. For years, people around the Caribbean and Barbadians themselves have been complaining about the negative attitude of immigration officers in Barbados. For a country that is a tourism dependent destination, the treatment of visitors is appalling. The officers need training or should be given other jobs.