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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 15:58 GMT
Caribbean rejects UK justice
Partial map of Caricom members
Caribbean leaders have decided they want their own court
Caribbean countries have decided to end one of the last vestiges of colonial rule by Britain and set up their own regional supreme court.

For many Caribbean islands the highest court of criminal appeal has been the Privy Council in London, made up of members of the House of Lords - the upper house of parliament.

But regional governments have become increasingly frustrated by the Privy Council's reluctance to enforce the death penalty, which they argue is needed to deal with rising crime rates.


We will spare no resource to ensure that the Caribbean court of Justice is celebrated as an icon of Caribbean achievement

Owen Arthurs, Prime Minister of Barbados

Human rights groups fear the new court will be a "hanging court". Caribbean leaders deny this, saying it is a way of establishing the region's full legal independence.

The decision, taken by the 12 countries at a Caribbean Community (Caricom) summit in Barbados, severs legal ties between the region and Britain going back 170 years.

Executions blocked

Lawyers succeeded in blocking executions by arguing before the Privy Council that the convictions were unsafe or that not all legal challenges had been heard.

Last September, the Privy Council commuted the death sentences of six convicted murderers in Jamaica to life in prison.

Jamaica has not had an execution since 1988, but the prime minister, P J Patterson, says hangings are need to counter violent crime, an opinion shared by many regional leaders.

Trinidad and Tobago hanged 10 convicted murderers in 2000.

Caribbean court: the next steps
Must be ratified by 3 Caricom members
Governments must pay into special fund
To convene 2003 at earliest
To hear civil, criminal cases, trade disputes

Gay rights

A number of Caribbean territories have also been at odds with the UK over its decision to scrap their anti-gay laws.

The Privy Council ordered the move after the respective parliaments refused to comply.

Religious leaders and local politicians had argued that homosexuality is immoral and is against their culture and religions.

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See also:

08 Jun 99 | Americas
Trinidad hangings completed
20 Jul 98 | Americas
St Kitts executes convict
14 Sep 00 | Americas
Caribbean justice fails British test
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