UPDATE: Guide to Caribbean Law Research

By Yemisi Dina

Yemisi Dina, B.A, M.A, LL.B, MLIS,MPPAL is Associate Librarian/Head of Public Services at the Osgoode Hall Law Library, York University, Ontario, Canada. Prior to this position, she worked as Manager of Adult Services at the Central Library, Richmond Hill Public Library, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada; Law Librarian University of The West Indies/ College of The Bahamas LL.B Program, Nassau, The Bahamas; 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.

Published November/December 2018

(Previously updated in May 2006, February 2007, January/February 2010 and October 2014)

See the Archive Version!

1. Introduction

The Commonwealth Caribbean describes all Caribbean countries geographically located in the West Indies. The region is made up of dependent and independent states. Caribbean legal literature has evolved rapidly in the last decade. This guide provides information on available resources for conducting legal research for the following English-speaking Caribbean countries:

The Internet and the digital age have improved access to legal information of Caribbean jurisdictions. Legal literature considered includes legislation, law reports, journals and textbooks.

2. 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) noted 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 influence, while 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.

3. Power Structure

The power structure in all the Commonwealth Caribbean countries is between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. Each country has its own unique structure. In many of the independent countries, the Parliamentary and bicameral systems of government are led by the Prime Minister with the Queen as the Head of State represented by an appointed Governor-General. In the dependent territories, they are under the sovereignty of the Crown; a Governor is usually appointed as the Head of the government.

4. The Court System

The Judicial Council of the Privy Council is the final court of appeal in Caribbean jurisdictions with the exception of Guyana.

However, on April 16, 2005, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean Court of Justice was established as a regional tribunal on February 14, 2001 by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The Court was established to further strengthen regional integration in the Caribbean Community. The CCJ is the highest appeal court of final jurisdiction for civil and criminal matters for member states of the Caribbean community. It has replaced the Judicial Council of the Privy Council. However, some of the member states are yet to implement it as the final court of appeal. Table 1 below shows an update on the implementation of the CCJ among some CARICOM jurisdictions.


CCJ Authority


Criminal and civil appeals


Criminal and civil appeals

Trinidad & Tobago

Criminal appeals only

Table 1. Caribbean Court of Justice Mandates

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 region there is the regional court known as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC). This is a superior court of record for nine member states of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, namely: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and three British Overseas Territories, namely, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat.

5. 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.

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

6. Legislation

There have been significant developments in the publication of legislation for Caribbean jurisdictions especially in the Internet age. Many of the jurisdictions have provided digital access to their legislation on websites of the various stakeholders listed below. Print volumes are mostly published by government departments like the Attorney General’s office/the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

The Faculty of Law Library, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados publishes the Consolidated Index of Statutes and Subsidiary Legislation (WILIP Index) for each Caribbean jurisdiction. This index provides an update of changes in statutes and legislation in these countries, this tool though in print assists researchers to know the currency of the law. More information is available on their website.

7. Law Reporting

Jamaica has the earliest history of law reporting, starting 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:

Digitization initiatives and the Internet continue to make the laws of Caribbean nations accessible and reachable. It is very common to find legislation, statutes and judgments on judiciary and parliamentary websites. In some of these jurisdictions, legislation is published in gazettes and some are now available freely on the Internet or through a subscription service.

There still exist gaps in some of these publications. The table below shows existing print law reports in selected jurisdictions:




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


Table 2: Print Law Reports
* Also available on CD, the West Indian Reports (WIR) are also available as an online service.

Judgments for Caribbean countries that have come before the Judicial Council of the Privy Council are 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.

8. Journals

A number of journals originating from the Caribbean 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, and Cave Hill Campus. It is being distributed by Caribbean Law Publishing Company. The West Indian Law Journal is published by the Norman Manley Law School, Mona, Jamaica. The Faculty of Law Library, Cave Hill Barbados also has a collection of these journals.

9. Treatises

There has been an exponential growth in the publication of legal treatises. Faculty members of the Faculty of Law, University of The West Indies and members of the legal profession in the region have contributed to the development of legal literature. The Faculty of Law Library, Cave Hill, Barbados continues to be the leading repository of Caribbean legal literature. The following is a list of suggested titles but not exhaustive. It contains links to WorldCat, which provides global locations for the titles.

10. Impact of Information Technology

Information technology has had a lot of impact on the accessibility of Caribbean legal information. Caribbean legal information can be accessed on the following websites:

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

11. Research Guides

12. Useful Citations


Full Name

Barb. L.R

Barbados Law Reports


Belize Law Report


Caribbean Court of Justice


Cayman Island Law Report


Jamaica Law Report


Law Reports of The Bahamas


Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Law Reports


West Indian Law Reports


Jamaica Law Journal


West Indian Law Journal

13. Legal Education

The legal profession is one of the oldest in the Caribbean. Undergraduate LL.B and graduate programs are offered at the University of the West Indies, campuses in Cave Hill – Barbados, Mona - Jamaica, and St. Augustine – Trinidad & Tobago. The University of The Bahamas, Nassau offers its own LL.B Program.

Professional legal training for 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 program for their students. On successful completion of the program, they are awarded a Certificate of Legal Education.

14. Professional Bar Associations

15. References