Jamaica could lose reparations benefits at Privy Council

Jamaica could end up losing most, if not all, financial benefits anticipated from current efforts to retrieve reparatory payments to countries in the region which have suffered from the evils of Transatlantic Chattel Slavery (TCS).

This development raised eyebrows at Thursday’s launch of a report on the results of TCS in 31 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean, primarily aimed at total payments of up to US$108 trillion in compensation for the brutality meted out to slaves imported to Jamaica and other regional countries without compensation.

The issue was raised in a voicemail during the question and answer period close to the end of the ceremony at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus on Thursday, June 8, but both the host, Professor Verene Shepherd, and guest, former Prime Minister P J Patterson, admitted that it was familiar to them.

Shepherd reacted that, “which is sure, I know who sent the question”. Patterson added, “I know where it is coming from, too”. However, neither raised serious objections to the issue being raised.

The question addressed a feature of the United Kingdom’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, that abolished slavery in most British colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa, as well as a small number in Canada. It received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833, and took effect on August 1, 1834, but with no reparations.

“The 1833 Act suggests that Jamaica may not be entitled to any such reparation, if the country leaves the monarchy to become a republic before the claim for reparation is recognised, or accepted by the King for the Privy Council of the United Kingdom,” the call noted.

Patterson noted that the Privy Council has issued new directions, reducing the scope of constitutional rights for persons who believe they have right to seek to appeal Supreme Court decisions.

Patterson, a special guest, noted that eminent legal people have been advancing the argument that Jamaica ought not to leave the Privy Council, before it has pursued the right of citizens to have access to His Majesty’s Privy Council: “Not for official appeals, but for redress”.

“It is a matter on which there is fundamental disagreement within the legal community. Out of respect, I am not going to speak to that viewpoint, but I want to refute it by some very clear and specific grounds,” he stated.

He said that, first, he would refer to the last two cases, which such an appeal to for redress had been directed to the Privy Council. But, that was more than a century ago, “and the response of the Privy Council, in both instances, was very cautious of the cases brought before it and the persons who sought to pursue that form of address”.

“The Privy Council is the creature that now advises His Majesty. We have good reason to believe, from the research that has been done, that the monarchy, the English monarchy, has been associated, identified and involved and benefited from the slave trade over centuries,” he stated.

“This is worse than appealing from Caesar to Caesar. So, on the ground alone, the matter shouldn’t be contemplated. But, there is a more pertinent point: At the moment, we are in the Privy Council. So, those who are of that view, pursue it now. These are grounds to expedite that process, which I don’t want to be associated with, because I don’t want to put up with any ‘faciness’, for the cruelty with which my ancestors have been treated, and which all of us have been exposed to, even in our educational system,” he said.

“So, let them pursue it now, if they will, and get the results, but don’t say we mustn’t leave the Privy Council until we have pursued it,” he concluded.

Patterson said that at the moment the Privy Council has issued new directions, reducing the scope of the constitutional rights of persons who believe that they have a right to the council for leave to appeal decisions where leave has not been granted by the local Court of Appeal.

“So, more and more, the court is taking action to restrict those appeals. I simply want to say this, anybody who sent in that question, use your influence to get the attorney general to pursue the matter, if you can’t, just face the argument and let us get with what needs to be done before we are kicked out of the Privy Council,” he warned.

Head of the National Council on Reparation, Laleta Davis Mattis, recalled that approximately two years ago, the council had announced that it was embarking on a policy towards reparatory justice. She said that the policy framework mirrored the Caribbean plan, in addition to other elements that have being incorporated through its own work.

“So the council in forging the way forward as part of its proposed public consultation process, is geared towards addressing all of the affected areas,” she said.

She added that, the important psychological damage is part of the framework and, in fact, “the council has also embarked on what we have dubbed our own reparatory justice programme, and the philosophy behind it is grounded to the fact that we ourselves, to some extent, have perpetuated some injustices that have been inflicted on us, and that we ourselves also have a responsibility towards repair,” she argued.