The Caribbean Court of Justice: A Research Guide

By Yasmin Morais, Published on February 27, 2008


This guide is designed to facilitate research on the Caribbean Court of Justice, a new court which was inaugurated on April 16, 2005 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The court is expected to serve as a court of last resort for Caribbean states, eventually replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom The guide traces the court's history and outlines its mandate and structure. It also provides information on the court's funding, its justices and recent judgments. The guide is also a useful resource for research on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

History of the Caribbean Court of Justice

Regional appellate courts, though short-lived, have operated in the Caribbean over the course of its history. Two important forerunners of the Caribbean Court of Justice are the itinerant West Indian Court of Appeal, established during the colonial period, and the Federal Supreme Court which operated between 1958 and 1962 when the region experimented with federal governance.

In its 1992 report, the West Indian Commission recommended the establishment of a Caribbean Supreme Court to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, a Committee considered detached from the Caribbean reality, and a constant reminder of the region's colonial past.

The Commission's recommendation was just one of a number of calls over time from various quarters for a permanent regional court in order to strengthen Caribbean jurisprudence, and promote social and economic stability. Caribbean economic and social integration led to the formation of CARICOM, which was established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas which came into force on August 1, 1973. The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas Establishing the Caribbean Community, Including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy entered into force on January 1, 2006.

Controversy has surrounded the court even before its inauguration, and the literature on the court is replete with references to it as a "hanging court", due largely to the landmark 1993 Privy Council ruling on Pratt and Morgan, (Earl Pratt and Ivan Morgan v. The Attorney General for Jamaica, 1993) two Jamaican death row inmates whose sentences were commuted to life. The protracted stay of inmates on death row was considered cruel and inhumane treatment by the Privy Council, which ruled that the sentences of inmates on death row for more than 5 years should be commuted to life. Caribbean human rights organizations suggested that the Court's establishment was a move by regional governments to resume hanging. Critics of such organizations, however, have pointed to historical calls for the court's establishment and also point to the court's original jurisdiction with respect to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

The Court's Mandate and Structure

The Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice entered into force on July 23, 2002. To date, 12 CARICOM member states are signatories to the Agreement. They are: Antigua & Barbuda; Barbados, Belize; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; St. Kitts & Nevis; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. However, only Barbados and Guyana have made the court their final appellate court. Other member states are pursuing constitutional reform in order to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The Court is considered unique in terms of its mandate and structure, particularly with respect to its dual jurisdictions. As a replacement of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Court will exercise an appellate jurisdiction (Part 111). In addition, the Court is vested with an original jurisdiction (Part 11, Article X1) with regard to the interpretation and application of the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community.

Regarding its appellate jurisdiction, the Court will review and rule on appeals arising from civil and criminal cases originating from common law courts in the jurisdiction of states party to the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice.


There are 7 justices of the Caribbean Court of Justice, six of whom are male. Below are the names of the justices and their citizenship:

The Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) appoints judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice. The eleven-member Commission is headed by a Court President who serves as Chairman of the Commission. The other members of the commission are appointed by regional legal, educational and public sector institutions.

The President of the Court is appointed by participating Caribbean States on the Commission's recommendation and may only be removed on the Commission's recommendation. Judges may only be removed from office by a tribunal's recommendation.

Article 1X states that the President of the Court holds office "for a non-renewable term of 7 years or until he attains the age of seventy-two years". A judge of the court "shall hold office until he attains the age of seventy-two years" (Article 1X 3).

Court Rules

The following Rules of the Caribbean Court of Justice are available on the court's website: http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/rules.html


The Caribbean Development Bank administers a trust fund of US$100 million to meet the court's expenses during its first five years of operation The Government of Trinidad and Tobago provided the building which currently houses the court. The Court's independent source of funding is expected to ensure its autonomy and decrease the risk of political pressure with respect to its judgments.


For a review of judgments of the court to date, please see the following http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/judgments.html

Code of Ethics

The court's code of ethics is available at: http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/codeofethics.html

References and Further Reading

The Caribbean Court of Justice


Caribbean Jurisprudence and Judicial Reform