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Privy Council may take up appeal cases originating in Honduras

Date: (24 July 2012)    |    

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Under an extraordinary expansion of UK legal jurisdiction being negotiated with the Central American country Honduras would mean cases originating in Honduras would end up before the Privy Council in Westminster.
The Central American state which has the highest homicide rate in the world was preparing to send appeal cases to the judicial committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).
The Honduran government is establishing what amounts to semi-independent city states, which it hopes would improve governance with the support of international partners helping attract business investment and create employment.
The complex constitutional agreement under discussion involves Mauritius, an island 10,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean, guaranteeing the legal framework of the courts in the development zones, known locally as La Regi├│n Especial de Desarrollo (RED).
Mauritius, a member of the Commonwealth, still uses the Privy Council in Westminster as a final court of appeal. Consequently any cases originating in Honduras could progress to the appeal courts in Mauritius and eventually reach the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London.
For decades, critics have dismissed the judicial committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) as an empire leftover. Several Caribbean states have been indicating that they wanted out following political rows over enforcing the death penalty.
But the committee, whose judges are UK Supreme Court justices, has proved remarkably enduring and gained an international reputation for the independence of its decisions.
In March, five UK supreme justices travelled to Mauritius and spent four days hearing appeals to the JCPC. It is understood they discussed the arrangement regarding Honduras then.
The cost of bringing court claims from Honduras to the JCPC is likely to be borne by the claimants through payment of court fees. But any influx of Central American cases will increase the caseload pressure on the 12 justices who sit on both the UK's Supreme Court and the JCPC.
In the past there have been hints that some consider the additional workload imposed by Privy Council work to be a distraction from cases coming up through British and Northern Irish courts. The deal has focused on commercial cases. Neither the Honduran nor Mauritian embassies in London responded to inquiries about whether criminal cases might also be sent to London.
A JCPC spokesman said that it was aware of the potential for an increase in appeals from Mauritius, if and when the special development regions were established and if cases were referred by the Mauritian courts.
The British justice system has been getting a reputation of being an impartial arbiter of business differences with many Russian and Middle Eastern businessmen bringing in their disputes to company courts in London for resolution.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the British legal system was one of the proudest and most successful exports recognised the world over as a system built on fairness and equality under the law.