Constitutional cases and land matters from Guyana have attracted particular attention at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) where Guyana accounts for the majority of cases filed since the court was established in 2005.
Since then, the court has decided on a total of 111 cases from Guyana, representing the majority of cases heard by the CCJ.
This number of judgments in appeals from Guyana compares to 88 from Barbados and 42 from Belize.
During a virtual Law Conference on Wednesday, which was organised by the Guyana Bar Association, CCJ’s Justice Denys Barrow of Belize said land cases and constitution matters amounted for the majority of appeals taken to the CCJ from Guyana. But there were other criminal, commercial and other cases heard from Guyana at the CCJ.
Speaking in general terms, Justice Barrow reminded those participating in the virtual conference that the CCJ decided his first case from Guyana on May 12, 2006. He congratulated the lawyers who participated.
“The court does not bring cases before itself. The lawyers and litigants are the ones who decide what cases to bring, and what issues to advocate or as some would say, agitate.
“It takes excellent lawyering to produce excellent judgments…By the quality of their efforts and talents, lawyers enable courts to produce judgments of the highest quality. It is this fundamental truth that is the process that enables and assists the court to develop its jurisprudence,” Justice Barrow said.
Guyana is among four Caribbean territories which subscribe to the Trinidad-based institution as their final appeal court.
Barrow explained that it is the belief of Justices at the apex court, headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago that Guyana’s ‘savings law clause’ has allowed for laws that violate human rights to remain on its books.
This clause limits human rights-related constitutional challenges to laws that were in force before the 1980 Constitution came into effect.
Justice Barrow observed that the clause was included on the attainment of independence in the various constitutions across the region and has served to preserve pre independence laws, saving them from being declared invalid for being in conflict with new constitutions.
“It is important to recall that the clause was intended, at inception, to allow us peace, for local legislatures to reform existing laws that will be revealed to be unconstitutional with the advent of the new constitution.”
“However, because there has not been the legislative reform which was contemplated in the conception, the clause has been allowed to operate for decades after the attainment of independence to preserve laws,” Justice Barrow explained.
He told the virtual conference that many of these pre-independent laws, which remain on the books, are universally acknowledged to violate basic human rights and instead of being struck down, such unconstitutional laws have been protected by the savings law clause.
To make his point, he recalled the CCJ’s ruling that Guyana’s laws against cross-dressing violated the rights of people and asked that it be removed.
The CCJ had found that the law infringes the constitutional right to equality before the law, non-discrimination and freedom of expression although Guyana has argued that it could not be reviewed.