Features – Guide to Caribbean Law Research

Yemisi Dina, MLS, LL.B, M.A., B.A., is the Law Librarian at the College of the Bahamas Law Library. Her areas of interest include legal research and information technology.

Table of Contents

Legal System
Power Structure
Court System
International Law
Law Reporting
Impact of Information Technology
Useful Citations

Legal Literature on the Caribbean, Recent Developments in the 21st century


The Commonwealth Caribbean describes all Caribbean countries geographically located in the West Indies. The region is made up of dependent and independent states. The dependent states are:

  • Anguilla

  • Bermuda

  • British Virgin Island

  • Cayman Islands

  • Montserrat

  • Turks & Caicos Island

The Caribbean is made up of young jurisdictions with growing legal literature. This presentation is an attempt to review the developments of Caribbean legal literature in the 21st century with emphasis on the following English-speaking countries:

  1. Anguilla

  2. Antigua & Barbuda

  3. The Bahamas

  4. Barbados

  5. Bermuda

  6. Belize

  7. British Virgin Islands (BVI)

  8. Cayman Islands

  9. Dominica

  10. Grenada

  11. Guyana

  12. Jamaica

  13. Monteserrat

  14. St. Kitts & Nevis

  15. St. Lucia

  16. St. Vincent & the Grenadines

  17. Trinidad & Tobago

  18. Turks & Caicos

Legal literatures considered for the purpose of this presentation include legislation, law reports, journals and textbooks.

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Legal System

Historically, the legal system of the Commonwealth Caribbean can best be described as mixed. The legal system of most of these countries is based on the laws of their former colonial masters. Antoine (1999) also confirmed this saying that:

“—The countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean continue to exhibit perhaps excessive tendencies of reliance on the form, structure, substance and content of the law as expressed in England.”

With the exception of Guyana and St. Lucia, the legal system of the English-speaking Caribbean countries is Common Law based. The legal system of Guyana and St. Lucia are best described as “hybrid” because Guyana has the influence of the Roman-Dutch tradition, while that of St. Lucia has a strong influence of the French civil law.

While many of the legal systems of the Commonwealth Caribbean have a very strong influence of the Common Law, there has been a reception of other legal systems such as Hindu, Muslim and Indian law. These traditions and customs have been incorporated into the legislation of these countries. Nevertheless, the content of the laws of these countries today reflect their cultural, social, political and economic needs.

The dependent territories earlier mentioned have no independent law and legal systems so to say as they are under the sovereignty of the Crown.

Power Structure

The power structure in all the Commonwealth Caribbean countries is between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.

Court System

In the Commonwealth Caribbean (except Guyana), the Judicial Council of the Privy Council is the final court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is the final court in Guyana. The court system can be described as follows:

Privy Council

Superior Court (High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court)

Inferior Court (Magistrate & Coroner courts) Resident Magistrate courts in Jamaica

Inferior courts are courts of summary jurisdiction made up of magistrate courts, petty sessional courts and coroners’ courts. They have a dual function – investigative and trial in criminal matters. However its jurisdiction is limited by the nature of civil offences.

There are also specialized courts/tribunals, which may be inferior, intermediate or superior courts namely juvenile, family, divorce, administrative, gun, revenue and industrial courts.

The superior courts are usually divided into two tiers – High court and Court of Appeal. They are summarily referred to as the Supreme Court. The High Court is the trial court or court of first instance. They have original and appellate jurisdiction over matters arising from the inferior courts. They have unlimited jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters.

The Court of Appeal has the appellate function of the Supreme Court. They hear appeals from the magistrate courts, high courts and special courts.

In the Eastern Caribbean recognition is given to the regional court known as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. This is a Supreme Court comprising of a Court of Appeal and a High Court headed a Chief Justice while the associate judges head the High Court.

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Posted in: Features, International Legal Research