The announcement, made Thursday during Ms Simpson Miller’s swearing-in address following her late December election, also gave strong indications that Jamaica intended to ditch the United Kingdom’s Privy Council as its court of final appeal – opting instead for the Caribbean Court of Justice. The court, based in Trinidad, acts as the final court of appeal for Caribbean Community member states.
The proposed changes come as Jamaica prepares to celebrate 50 years of independence from the UK on 6 August.
“We now need to complete the circle of independence,” Ms Simpson Miller said Thursday. “We will, therefore, initiate the process for our detachment from the monarchy to become a republic with our own indigenous president, as head of state.”
International observers might interpret that statement as Jamaica making a move away from its current parliamentary democracy in favour of a more American-style republican democracy. However, Jamaica’s honourary consul to the Cayman Islands, Dr. Joseph Marzouca, said he would seriously doubt that was intended.
Mr. Marzouca believes Prime Minister Simpson Miller is referring to a situation similar to Trinidad’s, where the elected Cabinet chooses a president who is the head of state; rather than having the appointment of a governor-general handled by the UK. The president’s position is largely a ceremonial role, except in instances where parliament has been dissolved ahead of an upcoming election.
The ruling government in Jamaica, made up of a majority of members from a certain political party – in this case, Ms Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party – would still choose its own Cabinet ministers and prime minister following an election.
“Everything else would remain the same,” Mr. Marzouca said. “Whether we have a president or a governor-general, what is really the difference?”
Recent data collected from more than 1,000 Jamaican residents by pollster Bill Johnson indicated 44 per cent of those questioned thought that the current Westminster-style governance system should be retained, while 35 per cent said it should be replaced with a republican system. The poll had a 4 per cent margin of error.
The same poll found 60 per cent of respondents thought Jamaica would be better off today if it had remained under British rule rather than going independent in 1962.
Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the now-opposition Jamaica Labour Party indicated this past summer that his government essentially agreed with the position taken by Ms Simpson Miller.
“I have long believed that if I am to have a queen, it must be a Jamaican queen,” Mr. Golding said in June 2011, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. “Transforming Jamaica from a monarchical to a republican state means no disrespect, and must not be interpreted this way.”
Mr. Marzouca echoed that sentiment and indicated that such a move, if it is made, would not equate to cutting any diplomatic or international relationships Jamaica maintains with the UK.
“Even before independence, there was a large community from Jamaica in the UK,” he said. “This is not an anti-English sentiment.”
During her address, Ms Simpson Miller also indicated her intention that Jamaica should “fully repatriate our sovereignty”.
“One important agenda item will be to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice in its final appellate jurisdiction, and in this way, end judicial surveillance from London,” she said, adding opposition party members recently stated the PNP and JLP were “not far apart” on this position.
According to Cayman Islands Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, the idea of dropping the Privy Council has been around for decades within former UK colonies in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
“This whole issue about the judicial committee of the Privy Council being the ultimate court of resolve is what causes a number of the Caribbean countries that were formed colonies … to chafe,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The view is that the council is very Euro-centric.”
Good examples of this in recent times have been the elimination of the death penalty as a punishment option in murder cases and the continued existence of criminal punishment for certain homosexual behaviours within the Cayman Islands Penal Code.
“Human rights is supposed to be universal, but like everything else, it’s subject to interpretation,” Mr. McLaughlin, the former chairman of Cayman’s Human Rights Committee, said.
Mr. Marzouca said a move to the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of resolve may be more about money than anything else.
“It would certainly be cheaper,” he said. “Some would argue you would not get the objectivity you would get from the Privy Council.”