Guide to Caribbean Law Research


by Yemisi Dina


Published June 2005
Read the Update!


Yemisi Dina B.A, M.A, LL.B, MLS is Law Librarian at The College of The Bahamas Law Library, Nassau, The Bahamas. She was formerly Law Librarian at the Adeola Odutola Law Library, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria and Principal Librarian at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, Nigeria. Her areas of research include law librarianship, legal research methods and information technology and law.


Update to an article previously published on

<> on November 18, 2002


Table of Contents

Legal System
Power Structure
Court System
International Law
Law Reporting
Impact of Information Technology
Useful Citations

Legal Education


Legal Literature on the Caribbean: Recent Developments in the 21st century


The Commonwealth Caribbean describes all Caribbean countries geographically located in the West Indies. The region is made up of dependent and independent states. The following are dependent states:


The Caribbean is made up of young jurisdictions with growing legal literature. This presentation is an attempt to review the developments of Caribbean legal literature in the 21st century with emphasis on the following English-speaking countries:


Legal literature considered for the purpose of this presentation includes legislation, law reports, journals and textbooks.

Legal System

Historically, the legal system of the Commonwealth Caribbean can best be described as mixed. The legal system of most of these countries is based on the laws of former colonial administration. Antoine (1999) also confirmed this, saying that:


“The countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean continue to exhibit perhaps excessive tendencies of reliance on the form, structure, substance and content of the law as expressed in England.”


With the exception of Guyana and St. Lucia, the legal system of the English-speaking Caribbean countries is based on the Common Law system. The legal systems of Guyana and St. Lucia are best described as “hybrid”, because Guyana has the influence of the Roman-Dutch tradition, while that of St. Lucia has a strong influence of the French civil law.


While many of the legal systems of the Commonwealth Caribbean have a very strong influence of the Common Law, there has been a reception of other legal systems, such as Hindu, Muslim and Indian law. These traditions and customs have been incorporated into the legislation of these countries. Nevertheless, the content of the laws of these countries today reflect their cultural, social, political and economic needs.


The dependent territories earlier mentioned have no independent law and legal systems to speak of, as they are under the sovereignty of the Crown.

Power Structure

The power structure in all the Commonwealth Caribbean countries is between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. 

Court System

In the Commonwealth Caribbean (except Guyana), the Judicial Council of the Privy Council is the final court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is the final court in Guyana. The court system can be described as follows:

Privy Council


Superior Court (High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court)


Inferior Court (Magistrate & Coroner courts) Resident Magistrate courts in Jamaica


Inferior courts are courts of summary jurisdiction made up of magistrate courts, petty sessional courts and coroners’ courts. They have a dual function – investigative and trial in criminal matters. However its jurisdiction is limited by the nature of civil offences.


There are also specialized courts/tribunals, which may be inferior, intermediate or superior courts, namely juvenile, family, divorce, administrative, gun, revenue and industrial courts.


The superior courts are usually divided into two tiers - High Court and Court of Appeal. They are summarily referred to as the Supreme Court. The High Court is the trial court or court of first instance. They have original and appellate jurisdiction over matters arising from the inferior courts. They have unlimited jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters.


The Court of Appeal has the appellate function of the Supreme Court. They hear appeals from the magistrate courts, high courts and special courts.


In the Eastern Caribbean recognition is given to the regional court known as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. This is a superior court of record for nine member states, namely: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and three British Overseas Territories, namely, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat.


There is a proposed Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which will be a court of last resort for member states of the Caribbean Community. It is being proposed that this court will determine civil and criminal matters from the courts within the region. There is yet to be a general agreement as to the establishment of the court.

International Law

All independent countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean belong to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). These countries are signatories to regional and cooperative agreements and treaties. Details can be found on the CARICOM website listed below.


Most of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries are also signatory to other international treaties, such as those of the United Nations, Organization of American States (OAS), and Commonwealth of Nations.


All of the aforementioned countries have published their own legislation after independence and they come in series. This area has seen a significant development in the last 20 years. Subsidiary legislation is usually published in Official Gazettes but some territories compile and publish them at the end of each year. These publications are usually handled by the Attorney General’s office/ the Ministry of Legal Affairs. The table below shows the available legislation in these countries:





1. Statutes and Regulations of Anguilla Volumes 1-10 (Available on CD)

Attorney General’s Chamber


2. Statute Law of The Bahamas Volumes I-VIII Subsidiary Legislation Volumes I-VI

Government of The Bahamas


3. Laws of Barbados Volumes I-XIV

Government of Barbados

1971 - 1997

4. Laws of Belize Volumes I-V (available on CD)

Attorney General’s Office


5.The Revised Laws of the British Virgin Islands (BVI)

Government of BVI


6. Laws of Dominica Volumes 1-12

Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica


7. Laws of Grenada Volumes 1-10

Government of Grenada


8. Montserrat Ordinances and Statutory rules and order

Government of Montserrat


9. Laws of St Lucia 1958


1958 with subsidiary legislation. Revised editions available from Government Printery.

10.Revised Laws of Turks & Caicos Volumes 1-7

Attorney General’s Chambers



The Faculty of Law Library, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados publishes an index of statutes for each country, which gives an extensive update of changes in statutes in all English-speaking Caribbean countries.

Law Reporting

Jamaica has the earliest history of law reporting from 1774.


Newton (1978) observed that law reports in the Commonwealth Caribbean were short-lived and punctuated by long gaps. According to her,


“No law reports have ever been published for Belize, The Cayman Islands, the Leeward or the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Bahamas Law Reports never continued beyond Volume I, which contained a selection of Supreme and Magisterial Court cases for the period 1900-1906.The Barbados Reports reached volume 2. The first volume covering cases relating to Barbados which were determined in local courts and found in English Reports for 1694, 1831 and 1853-1893; the second containing cases decided in the island’s Court of Error during the years 1860, 1863, 1878 and 1894-1903.”


Newton further identified the main reasons why most unit law reporting efforts have not been sustained:


Today, the above-mentioned reasons have prevailed upon the publication of law reports in the Commonwealth Caribbean, as only these countries currently publish law reports:

The Bahamas; Barbados; Cayman Islands; Jamaica; and Trinidad & Tobago.


There still exist gaps in some of these publications.  Below is a table showing the law reports that the writer has been able to access at this time:





Law Reports of The Bahamas

1965 – 1980  

1987 - 1990


Barbados Law Reports

1948 to date



The Cayman Island Law Reports

1952 to date

Law Reports International, Oxford

Jamaica Law Reports*

1934 – 1994 (on CD)  

1977 – 1994 (print)  

1995 – 1996 (forthcoming)

Caribbean Law Publishing Company

Trinidad & Tobago Law Reports

1990 - 1995

Caribbean Law Publishing Company

OECS Law Reports/Judgments Volumes 1- 3

Published in 1991 and covers judgments of superior courts of the Eastern Caribbean States

Faculty of Law, University of The West Indies and USAID

1996-98 volumes are available directly from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Order forms are available on their website.


Law Reports of the Commonwealth

Covers judgments of English-speaking Caribbean countries


West Indian Law Reports*

1958 – to date Covers most English-speaking Caribbean countries


* Also available on CD, the West Indian Reports (WIR) are also available as an online service.


The above table shows that there is a gap in law reporting for some countries. In the Bahamas there is a gap from 1990 onwards. Note also that earlier volumes of the Jamaica Law Reports have been published but are currently out-of-print. Nonetheless, the judgments of some of these countries are available on QUICKLAW.


In some instances judgments of these countries are also available on the Privy Council website. The Faculty of Law Library at the Cave Hill campus of the University of The West Indies has an extensive collection of unreported judgments from the various Caribbean countries.


A lot of journals have been published over the years but there is still a dearth in this area. The following titles are available on Caribbean legal literature:


The Caribbean Law Review and Caribbean Law Bulletin are both current journals published by faculty members of the Faculty of Law, University of The West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. It is being distributed by Caribbean Law Publishing Company.  The Faculty of Law Library, Cave Hill Barbados also has a collection of these journals.


Lecturers at the University of West Indies as well as legal practitioners in the region have published extensively on virtually every area of law. Cavendish Publishers, the Caribbean Law Book publishing and other private publishers have been published some of these texts. The Faculty of Law Library Cave Hill, Barbados continues to be the leading repository of West Indian legal literature. The following are leading titles in the pursuit of legal education in the Caribbean:


Impact of Information Technology

IT has had a lot of impact on the accessibility of Caribbean legal information. The legislation of the following countries is available on CD-ROM:


Caribbean legal information can be accessed on the following websites:


Note that some of the sites require some registration and/or membership to gain access.

Useful Citations

Legal Education

                  The legal profession is one of the oldest in the Caribbean. Graduates of law, after completing a bachelor’s in law are expected to attend the Bar School for training as legal practitioners. The University of the West Indies, with campuses in Mona - Jamaica, Cave Hill – Barbados, St. Augustine – Trinidad & Tobago and most recently Nassau – The Bahamas offers training for the LL.B Program in these campuses. There is also training to proceed to higher degree for the LL.M available at the Cave Hill campus.


Professional legal training as legal practitioners is being coordinated by a regional institution, the Council of Legal Education. The Council was established by an agreement which came into force on March 17, 1971. It has the following institutions located in 3 countries within the region:


They facilitate a six month and two year programme for their students. On successful completion of the program, they are awarded a Certificate of Legal Education.



Antoine, Rosemary Belle-Antoine, Commonwealth Caribbean Law and Legal Systems London: Cavendish Publishers 1999.


Newton, Velma "Historical Perspective of law-reporting in the English-speaking Caribbean - a case for regional reporting” West Indian Law Journal, October 1978 pp. 37-44.


Barnett, Lloyd. G. The constitutional law of Jamaica Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.


Shahabuddeen, M. The legal system of Guyana Guyana, 1973.