Law will remain an area of underachievement in Jamaica once it’s in the imperial embrace of the British Privy Council, says International Criminal Tribunal president Patrick Robinson.
Like most of the British Commonwealth, the Privy Council has been the final court of appeal in Jamaica and most Caribbean countries since 1833. The Caribbean has its own final appellate court – the Caribbean Court of Justice – which only adjudicates cases from Guyana and Barbados.
Other countries have not signed on for myriad reasons, ranging from concerns over the court’s independence to the cost of holding referendums to effect the required constitutional change and political expediency.
“How could law qualify as an area of excellence when the country has failed to exercise its sovereign right to make our own judges the final arbiter of right and wrong in civil and criminal matters in Jamaica?” asked Robinson in his keynote address at Jamaica College Old Boys’ Association of Canada’s (JCOBAC) 22nd annual fundraising dinner last Saturday night in Brampton.
“To surrender your final appellate function to a group of foreigners, people who you have nothing in common with and people who have never set foot in your country and who know little or nothing of your history and culture, is an abdication of the freedom and independence for which our enslaved ancestors fought and which they bequeath to us some 50 years ago.”
Suggesting that a country’s growth and development is linked to its identifiable areas of excellence, Robinson also singled out law enforcement and education as areas in which Jamaica has failed to shine.
“For years now, the division between the few who receive an education and the vast majority who do not is so stark that observers describe the system as akin to apartheid,” said the Jamaica College alumnus. “You can’t say law enforcement is an area of excellence either because, in the last 30 years, successive governments have failed to come to grips with the spiraling rate of crime and violence. Our murder rate resembles those of a country experiencing an active insurgency.
“The biggest obstacle to the achievement of excellence in Jamaica is the legacy of self-doubt and its psychological partner, the belief that what is not new – especially if it’s foreign and White – is better than you. Don’t underestimate the evil that has been done to our thinking and how it has retarded growth and development in many areas of national life. We still have many persons in Jamaica who are so dissatisfied with their Blackness that they apply chemicals to bleach their skin.”
Robinson, an Order of Jamaica recipient and former member of the International Law and the Haiti Truth and Justice Commissions, also paid tribute to the late Jamaican scholar, Professor Rex Nettleford, who died in Washington last month after suffering a massive heart attack.
“You can’t speak about the issue of identity in Jamaica and the Caribbean without mentioning that great Jamaican who recently passed away,” he said. “He did so well in so many areas that it’s almost impossible to rate his achievements.”
Robinson acknowledged the significant role Nettleford played in building the confidence of the Jamaican, particularly the disadvantaged Jamaican.
“He emphasized that anybody could be somebody and he wanted every Jamaican to have a sense of his or her own self-worth, irrespective of that person’s status, wealth, colour or station in life,” said Robinson, who began his legal career as a Crown Counsel in Jamaica’s Public Prosecutions office. “He occupied an area of excellence that was beyond the lofty and beyond limit.”
Jamaica’s representative on the United Nations General Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee for 26 years, Robinson also highlighted the part played by Jamaican women who, he said, are the backbone of the country’s family and society and noted that music and track and field were areas in which Jamaicans have excelled.
The Caribbean country has won 13 gold, 27 silver and 21 bronze medals since making its summer Olympic debut in 1948, and 14 gold (seven in Berlin last year), 33 silver and 32 bronze medals at the World Track and Field championships that began in 1983. In addition, Jamaica swept the sprint gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning 11 medals overall and finishing third out of 204 countries in track and field.
“In Jamaica, we have our areas of achievement that are beyond the lofty, beyond limit,” said Robinson who oversaw the historic trial of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, the first former Head of State to be tried for war crimes. “Consequently, we would be very appreciative if others would acknowledge that there are areas of excellence in Jamaica and stop portraying the negative image of our country as a place that is drug-ridden and where murder is as commonplace as the tropical sun. Tell the bad, but also tell the good and avoid the damage of the single story.
“If Jamaica is to experience real growth and development, we must enhance the ‘beyond the lofty, beyond the limit’ experience and we must increase the areas of excellence at the personal, societal, institutional and governmental levels. Governance itself must become an area of excellence and one that gives pride of place to ensuring that there is a meaningful education for every Jamaican.”
Founded in 1789 by Barbadian Charles Drax, Jamaica College has produced 17 Rhodes Scholars, including the late Premier Norman Manley and his deceased son Michael Manley, Jamaica’s fourth Prime Minister; current PM Bruce Golding and former West Indies cricket captain Jimmy Adams.
The third oldest high school on the island behind Wolmer’s and Manning’s established in 1729 and 1738 respectively, Jamaica College has an enrollment of nearly 1,800 students.
“We have to ensure that Jamaica College continues to produce students who will be leaders in government, the civil service, the private sector, the church, the family and in fact leaders in the growth of areas of excellence in Jamaica,” said Robinson who graduated from high school in 1959. “Jamaica College must instill in its classes the desire to achieve excellence and the duty to serve the greater good of our country.”
Jamaica’s Consul General George Ramocan, Ryerson University chancellor Raymond Chang, former Member of Provincial Parliament, Ontario House Speaker and diplomat Alvin Curling, Scotiabank vice-president Christine Williams, Nursing and Homemakers Inc. president and chief executive officer Delores Lawrence and prominent lawyer Julian Falconer were among those who attended the gala.