Alicia Nicholls

Small states of the Caribbean, which leverage their competitive advantage as low tax jurisdictions to attract international business, are no strangers to the “tax haven” smear. However, the European Commission’s release of a ‘naming and shaming’ list of 30 countries, including 14 Caribbean countries, which its member states view as uncooperative in tax matters (a polite term for “tax haven”), arguably came straight out of left field as we say in our local parlance.

The list was published in tandem with the Commission’s “Action Plan for Fair and Efficient Corporate Taxation”, part of the EU’s crackdown on companies which seek to avoid paying taxes in the EU by diverting their profits to offshore jurisdictions. The catalyst for the European Commission’s crackdown was the Luxembourg Leaks “Luxleaks” scandal in which thousands of leaked documents revealed the millions of dollars major multinational companies were able to save in taxes through tax deals with the Government of the Duchy of Luxembourg. The Commission’s first response was a Tax Transparency Package, a series of transparency measures aiming to boost tax transparency, including a proposed requirement for member states to automatically exchange information about their tax rulings.

In his speech “Corporate Taxation Action Plan”, Commissioner with responsibility for tax, Pierre Moscovini, noted the aim was “to push non-cooperative non-EU jurisdictions to be more cooperative and to adopt international standards, agreed at G20 level for example.” He further stated it was their hope “that all of these jurisdictions will soon adopt the agreed international standards, in particular the exchange of information, to fight against tax evasion. Some have already done so.”

This action by the EU raises several questions, least of which is why have these states been targeted? Firstly, the majority of the states listed are small states, with small populations and equally small GDPs, which pose little to no threat to European countries’ tax receipts. Some small European jurisdictions like Guernsey, Monaco and Liechtenstein are included on the list. Curiously, however, larger states such as Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Ireland which are currently the subject of investigations are conspicuously absent.

Secondly, the criteria used to single out these states as tax havens is sketchy. Each of the states on the list has been blacklisted by at least 10 of the 28 EU countries as tax havens.According to the EC’s website, the criteria for identifying these states include “compliance with transparency and exchange of information standard, absence of harmful tax measures and “other criterion”, whatever that “other criterion” means. This issue of criteria is an important one as several of the states listed currently have signed or are in the process of ratifying tax agreements with states on whose blacklists they appear. Barbados for instance has tax agreements with Italy, Spain, Slovakia and Portugal, while Cayman Islands has agreements with all but one of its accusers. What therefore are the criteria?

This brings us to the big question, why now? In light of the revelation of Luxleaks and the European public’s demand for answers, it behooves the Commission to call for reforms of the community’s tax policy and go after those they believe to be responsible for billions of dollars in lost revenue to member states’ coffers. In such a case, by targeting Caribbean offshore jurisdictions, the EU is off mark. The biggest tax competitors for EU countries are within the EU itself. The right to tax has long been regarded as one of the hallmarks of national sovereignty and is a right states guard jealously. The EU does not as yet have a harmonised tax policy, meaning that member states still compete with each other through tax incentives to attract large companies. The Commission itself recognises this as it seeks to relaunch its proposal for a mandatory Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), which will create a common and singular set of rules by which companies calculate their taxable profits in the EU.

Secondly, Caribbean offshore tax jurisdictions have little incentive to be uncooperative in tax matters.  In many countries the international business sector is a major source of corporate profits and foreign exchange, as well as employment. In Barbados it accounts for approximately 60% of corporate revenues. Most Caribbean countries, including Barbados, pride themselves not solely on their low tax rates, but their high levels of transparency, regulation and integrity as offshore domiciles while at the same time offering tax efficient vehicles and a business friendly environment. Moreover, the kinds of legitimate international businesses which Caribbean islands seek to attract often do not wish to be seen as carrying on business in tax havens. Reputation means everything.

This challenge by the EU is just one in the long line of attempts by wealthy countries to crack down on offshore jurisdictions which they blame for taking tax revenues out of their reach. In the late 1990s to the mid-2000s Caribbean countries fought hard, and successfully so, to be taken off the OECD’s blacklists in its Harmful Tax Practices reports. Many states have gone to great pains to be in compliance, including signing Tax Information Exchange Agreements and enacting and updating Anti-money laundering legislation.  Barbados’ strategy has been to go beyond TIEAs and negotiate full double taxation agreements in order to maximise the developmental benefits. By constantly speaking of stamping out “tax avoidance”, there also seems to be a further intentional blurring of the line between tax avoidance, which is perfectly legal, and tax evasion, which is illegal.

The EU’s blacklist has little merit. Several countries, including Barbados, have made clear their intentions to challenge their blacklisting status. Besides the questionable omissions already mentioned, most of the countries which have Caribbean offshore jurisdictions on their national blacklists do little if any business with the Caribbean. In contrast, the UK, with which most Caribbean countries have a treaty, has not named a single jurisdiction as uncooperative which speaks volumes. At least, the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes has distanced itself from the list, stating categorically “[a]s the OECD and the Global Forum we would like to confirm that the only agreeable assessment of countries as regards their cooperation is made by the Global Forum and that a number of countries identified in the EU exercise are either fully or largely compliant and have committed to AEOI, sometimes even as early adopters.”

This is but a small consolation at least.  Yet the question cannot helped be asked, when will the attacks on Caribbean offshore jurisdictions end?

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and researcher.

Alicia Nicholls

The news this week of progress in the talks at Jimani between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to address, inter alia, the long-standing migration issue between the two countries is welcomed news. The fragile diplomatic relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti took a sharp turn for the worse in the latter part of last year following a controversial ruling by the DR’s Constitutional Court  on September 23.

The DR’s Constitutional Court had been called on to consider an application made by Ms. Juliana Deguis Pierre that the Electoral Office be ordered to issue her with a national ID card which she had been denied on the basis that she was the child of Haitian parents and not Dominican. Ms. Pierre was born and raised in Los Jovillos, an area in Yamasa municipality (in Monte Plata province) where many persons of Haitian origin live. Denying her request, the Court ruled that Ms. Pierre was not a Dominican citizen but a child born of ‘foreigners in transit’. Using the case as an opportunity to elaborate on Dominican nationality law, the Court applied the restriction on the jus soli principle per Article 18 of the 2010 Constitution, holding that under Dominican law birth on Dominican soil did not automatically confer citizenship on an individual and that for a person born after 1929 to be deemed a citizen of the Dominican Republic, he or she must have been born to at least one parent with legal status in the country. All other persons who did not meet this criterion would be classified as being ‘extranjeros en transito” (foreigners in transit) and therefore as never having had Dominican citizenship.  A copy of the court’s judgment can be read here (in Spanish).

The principle in Dominican immigration law of “foreigner in transit” is not new as it was included in the Constitution of 1929 and in subsequent constitutional reforms, including as recently as in Article 18.3 of the reformed constitution of January 26, 2010. However, prior to the 2010 Constitution, citizenship in the Dominican Republic was conferred on an absolute jus soli basis as evidenced by the language used in previous constitutions, which excluded any reference to the requirement of being born of Dominican parentage. The Court’s retroactive ruling which applies the jus sanguinis principle, established in Article 18 of the 2010 Constitution, to those born after 1929 (and not just to those born after 2010) leaves several generations of Dominicans of foreign descent in a legal limbo as to their status. The retroactive application by the Court of Article 18 to this case seems especially harsh given that the 2010 constitution itself does not indicate that it is meant  to apply retroactively, evidenced by Article 18.2. which states that “Dominicans [also] include those who enjoyed nationality before the entry into force of the Constitution”. A copy of the 2010 Constitution may be found here (in Spanish).

While persons born to parents of other nationalities will be affected, it is persons of Haitian descent who make up the overwhelming majority of persons to whom this ruling would apply.  Some human rights groups estimate that as many as 200,000 persons of Haitian descent may be affected by the ruling. Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, have always had a tense and complicated relationship which has its roots in the colonial era and in subsequent historical events. These events include the 22-year Haitian occupation of the Dominican Republic in the immediate post-colonial period before the latter attained its independence, and the slaughter of thousands of Haitians by the Trujillo dictatorship in 1937. The socioeconomic disparities between the two states and their cultural, religious, linguistic and racial differences, a legacy of colonialism, have only helped to further deepen the gulf between these two sister nations. A constant source of tension between the two states has been undocumented Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic. Ever since the 1920s when Haitian workers were actively recruited to work in the Dominican Republic’s sugar industry, the Dominican Republic has been an attractive employment market for seasonal and long-term Haitian workers searching for a better life for themselves and their families. Many of those affected by the ruling include Haitians who had been brought in to work on Dominican farms during the 1920s and their descendants born and raised in the DR.

Haitian emigration to the Dominican Republic has helped to foment anti-Haitian sentiment among some Dominicans, a sentiment which is also boosted because of the Dominican Republic’s own racially stratified society where darker skin is still synonymous with being poor and uneducated.

The immigration policy of states is always a touchy subject because of the importance it has for national security. Indeed, it is no doubt that inherent in being a sovereign nation is the right of the state to protect its borders. Both customary international law and the Montevideo Convention of 1933 provide that no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another. Further, international law gives states the right to dictate their own policies in regards to conferring nationality.

However, these rights are not absolute as they are subject, inter alia, to the various international human rights treaties which States, like the DR, have acceded to, and by which they agree to respect human rights and to be held accountable for any violation thereof. The human rights implications of the constitutional court’s ruling cannot be overlooked on the basis that the ruling is solely in the province of the DR’s internal affairs. The ruling has been condemned by CARICOM states (of which Haiti is a member) and by various human rights groups as being ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ in nature and with potentially devastating human rights consequences.

Although Dominican authorities deny that the ruling leaves anyone stateless and argue that a plan for naturalisation of affected persons would be implemented, the Court’s retroactive application of Article 18 of the 2010 Constitution does have the effect of stripping those affected of citizenship, depriving them of the rights inherent with nationality, such as the right to vote, the ability to get married and the right of access to basic services such as education, employment and health care, and bringing with it the possibility of expulsion from the land of their birth. Like Juliana Deguis Pierre, many of those three generations of Haitians who are affected were born in, and have lived in the Dominican Republic all their lives, have little or no ties to Haiti and speak no Haitian creole.  In light of the ruling, CARICOM has agreed to indefinitely defer consideration of the Dominican Republic’s longstanding application to accede to CARICOM.

Happily, it appears tentatively that some progress is being made to address this unfortunate state of affairs. Both countries have agreed to establish a Joint Commission to discuss not just issues relating to migration, but also matters of trade, the environment, security, among others. The Dominican Republic has stated that it will as shortly as February 27th bring legislation to address the situation of those born in the Dominican Republic but who currently have no documentation. It is hoped that such legislation will undo the human rights injustice which this ruling portends, affirming the right of those affected to Dominican nationality and being a needed step towards addressing and correcting  the discrimination which many native born Dominicans of Haitian  descent continue to face.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law graduate. She can be followed on Twitter at @Licylaw. 

February 5th, 2014 


1.Public sector lay-offs in Barbados continue

Public sector lay-offs in Barbados continue in an effort to trim the island’s public sector by 3,000.This is one of the measures which the Government announced  for reducing the island’s critical fiscal deficit. Two hundred workers from the Ministry of Transport & Works, the Soil Conservation Unit and the Environmental Health Department were given termination letters yesterday.

2. Progress made between Dominican Republic and Haiti

The Dominican Republic and Haiti have issued a joint statement at the end of talks yesterday indicating that progress had been made on contentious issues between the two countries. The DR has also promised to implement legislation to address its court’s constitutional ruling which many argue could have an adverse effect on Dominicans of Haitian descent.

3. US President Obama hints at deal for undocumented Caribbean immigrants

In his state of the union speech US President Obama has hinted that under his immigration reform plan, more than 10 million undocumented migrants, including those from the Caribbean, may be allowed to apply for temporary legal status and eventually citizenship. However, he cautioned that it would still be a long process.

4.The 10th Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC) Junior Officer Basic Training Course begins

The Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC) has begun its 10th Junior Officer Basic Training Course in St. Kitts & Nevis. The aim of the course is to improve the competency of the region’s junior officers in all areas of customs operations.

5. Canada introduces easier visa application process for Caribbean nationals

Canada has opened a new visa application centre in Trinidad & Tobago to facilitate the process of applying for a Canadian visa for Caribbean nationals.

6. Grenada to join Alba

Grenada has announced its intentions to join hemispheric organisation ALBA – The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas. St Kitts & Nevis had earlier also signaled its intention to join ALBA.

7. Jamaica dominates skills certificate application

Jamaicans represent the majority of persons who apply for CARICOM skills certificates.

8. Upcoming CARICOM Heads of Government Conference to focus on private sector involvement

The upcoming 25th Inter-sessional Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference is to focus on the lack of private sector involvement in dialogue on trade matters.

9. Dominica gets British approval to adopt the CCJ as its final court of appeal

Dominica has been given approval by Britain to adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal.


Caricom-Canada Talks shrouded in Doubt – Sir Ronald Sanders

Mockery of CARICOM’s DR stand? – Ricky Singh

The “new” debt crisis, and why austerity won’t work – Daryl Dujon

For more Caribbean News Digests, click here

Interesting commentary by Sir Ronald Sanders on the current state of the CARICOM-Canada trade negotiations:

CARICOM-Canada trade talks shrouded in doubt 

Alicia Nicholls

Five days of intense negotiations have given birth to the first major trade agreement to be agreed to by all WTO members since the WTO’s formation at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round. Termed “a leap forward for developing countries” by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Bali, Indonesia, in December of last year has been heralded as the injection of confidence needed to bring new life to a Doha Round which seemed to be tottering on the brink of failure.

The Doha Development Agenda which, in the thirteenth year since its launch at the WTO’s Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, has the unfortunate title of being the longest and most contentious multilateral trade round to date. It contains an ambitious work programme which covers about twenty areas of trade, including: agriculture, services, market access for non-agricultural products, trade facilitation, WTO rules, the dispute settlement understanding and trade and the environment. The disappointment with the lack of progress in the Doha Round since 2008 has led  many powerful WTO member states to turn their attention to bilateral agreements, including so-called “mega-trade deals” like the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Entrenched interests and lack of political will have been blamed for the doldrums to which the Doha Round has been relegated since 2008. It is therefore no surprise that in his statement at the opening of the Bali Ministerial, Director General Azevedo noted that the future of the WTO and the Multilateral Trading System hung in the balance.

Coming out of the Bali Ministerial Conference, the Ministers adopted the “Bali Package” on 7 December 2013, a package of ten agreements covering three of the more easily reconcilable cluster of issues of the Doha Agenda, namely trade facilitation, agriculture, cotton and development and LDC issues. CARICOM has always been a loyal supporter of the multilateral trade system, a sentiment reiterated by Guyanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues Birkett, in her capacity as CARICOM’s Ministerial spokesman on WTO matters. The question to be explored in this article is what implications do the agreements and decisions contained in the Bali Package have for small vulnerable economies like those in CARICOM and the wider Caribbean?

The Agreement on Trade Facilitation

The Agreement on Trade Facilitation seeks to facilitate global trade by speeding up, and providing transparency and efficiency in customs procedures. The provision on goods in transit is of importance to landlocked countries which rely on ports in neighbouring coastal states for the import of goods. Keeping up with the times, there is also the requirement that information be placed online. The language of the Agreement is primarily ‘best endeavour’ for the simple fact that the ability of most states to abide by the provisions will be contingent on their receipt of funding to defray the costs of implementation. Indeed, the implementation of these requirements, while important for the multilateral trade system, will be costly for cash-strapped CARICOM states in terms of updating their existing infrastructure and training customs officials. The technical and financial assistance and capacity-building provided for in the Agreement,  in-keeping with the principle of special and differential treatment for developing states, will be vital to help CARICOM states meet these new obligations. The issue of the US’ illegal embargo on Cuba since 1960 threatened to hold up any agreement on trade facilitation. Cuba, Venezuela, among others objected to the removal of a provision relating to the embargo from the text. A compromise was struck by which a provision was added upholding the principle of non-discrimination on transit trade, which spoke  to the embargo situation.


The main contentious issue at the Bali Ministerial was the complex issue of public stockholding programmes for food security, a practice where governments purchase food from local farmers at favourable prices in order to guarantee food security and to support low income farmers.  The US was insistent on the expiry of the “Peace Clause” (Article 13 of the Agreement on Agriculture) which prevents support measures and export subsidies of a member which are legal under the Agreement on Agriculture from being challenged for their illegality under another WTO agreement. India, however, which operates MSPs programmes on a number of agricultural products, strongly objected to the proposed expiry of the ‘peace clause’ without provision being made for a permanent solution. A compromise was finally struck whereby the peace clause would remain in the interim until a more permanent solution was found.  The implication of this is that for now developing country members’ public stockholding programmes for food security in times of food crisis cannot be challenged under any WTO agreement even if they go over their Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS).

Tariff Quota Administration

With respect to the administration of under-filled tariff quotas, the agreement was reached that members would engage in a combination of consultation and providing information where such under-filling occurs. However, importantly several countries, including the CARIFORUM states of Barbados and the Dominican Republic, reserved the right not to apply the system after six years.

Market Access for Least Developed countries

Of particular concern to Haiti, the only LDC in CARICOM, are the four documents on market access for LDCS, which have remained unchanged from the versions negotiated at Geneva. These include decisions for granting duty-free, quota-access for least developed countries to export to developed country markets, simplified preferential rules of origin for goods from LDCs, a “services waiver for preferential treatment for LDC service providers” and a “monitoring mechanism on Special and Differential Treatment”.

Of general interest to all countries of the region, decisions were also taken by the Ministers on five aspects of the WTO’s regular work. Members agreed not to bring “non-violation” cases in intellectual property to the WTO dispute settlement process, import duties would not be charged on electronic transmissions and special consideration would be given to the issues of small economies. Ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to Aid for Trade and affirmed that their Geneva delegations would be directed to continue examining the link between technology transfer and trade. However, the details of these latter decisions remain to be elaborated upon in future negotiations.

Implications for SVEs like CARICOM?

The conclusion of the Bali Package is a small but important step towards the achievement of the Doha Agenda for the simple fact that it gives a new infusion of confidence and credibility to the WTO as the pre-eminent forum for trade negotiations. This is only the beginning however. The Bali package focuses mainly on low hanging fruits, while negotiations on more contentious areas of interest to CARICOM, like services trade, remain. Other priority areas important for ensuring SVEs like CARICOM reap the benefits of the multilateral trading system are still to be finalised, including the work programme for SVEs,  Aid for Trade, the issue of appropriate flexibilities for SVEs in the NAMA negotiations, trade and technology transfer, more flexible accession for SVEs, and reforms of the dispute settlement process to take into account the difficulties faced by SVEs in ensuring compliance by larger states with dispute settlement body decisions.

In their Ministerial Declaration, the Ministers instructed the Trade Negotiations Committee to prepare “a clearly defined work program on the remaining Doha Development Agenda issues” within the next twelve months, building on the Bali decisions and prioritising areas where binding decisions had been unable to be made. Director-General Azevedo has optimistically stated that the WTO hopes to have a full agreement by year-end.  Small developing economies like those in CARICOM have a lot riding on the outcome of the Doha Round and stand to lose the most should the round fail or not fulfill its mandate of being development-focused. However, the success of the Doha Round will depend on whether WTO member states, particularly the richer countries, are willing to set aside their entrenched political interests in the effort of delivering a truly development-centred final package.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist. She can be followed on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

Alicia Nicholls

Burgeoning case backlogs have forced many Commonwealth Caribbean countries to take a harder look at the promotion of alternative dispute resolution techniques as opposed to litigation to solving disputes. This article discusses whether alternative dispute resolution (ADR) offers a viable solution for reducing Barbados’ large case backlog. Full article available here: ADR A viable solution for reducing Barbados case backlog_Nicholls.

Alicia Nicholls 

The big legal news rippling across the Caribbean Sea this week is the revelation that the Tillman Thomas government in Grenada has made history by being the first Commonwealth Caribbean territory to abolish criminal defamation and thus bring its libel laws, at least on this front, in conformity with the exigencies of a twenty-first century democracy.

According to the International Press Institute (IPI), Grenada’s Criminal Code (Amendment) Act of 2012 abolished sections 252 and 253 of the Grenada Criminal Code which imposed criminal sanctions for libel. The repeal was a big victory for the International Press Institute which has been ardently campaigning for the abolition of criminal defamation in all Commonwealth Caribbean States, advocating instead the reliance on civil actions exclusively. Seditious libel however still remains on the books as a criminal offence under s 357 of the Criminal Code. For a full background on the work of the IPI on this front, see here.

Freedom of the press is held to be one of the central tenets of a functioning liberal democracy. The rationale behind press freedom is that a robust and independent press keeps public officials in check by informing the populace of their actions, calling them out on their shortcomings, while also providing information which would allow the public to make informed decisions in their own interest. However, the existence of antiquated defamation laws on the statute books of Commonwealth Caribbean countries has led many to criticize these vestiges of the colonial era as fetters on the efficacy of the fourth estate in scrutinizing our public officials, and thereby serving as a barrier to true democratic governance.

The zeal with which Commonwealth Caribbean territories have tended to cling to our pre-independence laws has been heavily criticized, but in the case of our libel laws, the situation becomes even more perplexing. While it is accepted that a delicate balance must be maintained between the much deserved need to protect a person’s reputation and the equally deserved right of the public to access information, the harshness of Commonwealth Caribbean countries’ libel laws can be contrasted with the iniquitously broad freedom of expression privileges granted to parliamentarians on the floor of parliament under the convention of parliamentary privilege.  Is the freedom of speech of parliamentarians therefore more valuable than that of those whose role is to serve as the watch dogs of our post-independence democracies?

Defamation legislation throughout the Commonwealth Caribbean ranges in vintage from semi-modern to archaic acts dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.  With sluggish statutory change, if any, it has been up to the common law to adapt the laws of defamation to the needs of modern twenty-first century democracies. The defence of qualified privilege is one which has not generally found much success in case law before the landmark House of Lords decision in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Limited [2001] which recognized the duty of the press to communicate to the world at large and also recognised a public interest defence which commentators have called the “Reynolds defence”. In Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead further clarified the Reynolds defence by giving some guidance on the factors to be taken into consideration when deciding whether the defence of qualified privilege applies.

Criminal libel prosecutions remain alive and well in the Caribbean, although their frequency varies according to territory. In the recent Grenadian case of George Worme and Grenada Today v Commissioner of Police of Grenada (2004) which had been referred to the Privy Council, Lord Rodger importantly rejected submissions by counsel that then section 258 was too narrowly drafted to allow for the raising of the Reynolds defence. However, the court also regrettably held that criminal libel  was “a justifiable part of the law of the democratic society in Grenada”. Rulings such as this reinforce the cloud of fear hanging over regional journalists in execution of their ‘watch dog’ function.

Penalties for criminal libel vary across the region. Before its abolition, section 252 of the Grenada Civil Code provided that the penalty of conviction for negligent libel was imprisonment for six months, while two year imprisonment existed in the case of intentional libel. The Barbados Defamation Act (Cap 199) of 1997, one of the more ‘modern’ acts,  is a bit more lenient at Article 34(3) as it gives the Court the discretion to impose a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.Despite the talks and promises of libel reform decades after many of us have achieved independence, our journalists still have the risk of criminal prosecution as an ‘occupational hazard’ of their profession. It is little wonder therefore that self censorship by media houses is endemic in several Commonwealth Caribbean states, including Barbados. It is a practice which, though done to shield these entities from prosecution, is contrary to the public interest.

Moreover, stringent libel laws have tended to make the constitutional guarantee of right to access to information virtually nugatory, particularly where freedom of information acts do not exist. In Barbados, the proposed Freedom of Information Act which was supposed to buttress the constitutional guarantee of right to access to information under section 20 of the Constitution of Barbados by, inter alia, providing greater public access to information held by government bodies, has not yet been passed and neither have the proposed defamation reforms. On the contrary, the UK, from whom our defamation laws were inherited, abolished criminal libel and sedition per section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and is currently in the process of passing a new Defamation Act (currently HL Bill 41) which is aimed at modernizing that country’s defamation laws.

In countries which pride ourselves as democratic states, it is high time that we purge our statute books of these archaic and anti-democratic laws. As seen in Grenada, this is not a move most politicians would make without strong lobbying by local, regional and international civil society.  Despite this, Grenada’s big step towards the complete removal of criminal defamation should be applauded and one can only hope that other post-independence Commonwealth territories, including Barbados, would follow suit in the interest of greater democracy.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at@LicyLaw.


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