Censorship issues in Court

A petition for the judicial review of a decision made by Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson with respect to his refusal to grant temporary permits for the members of the band Bounty Killer was heard in Grand Court Wednesday.

The petition was brought by concert promoter Andrea Thompson, who was represented by Attorney Stephen Hall-Jones.

Bounty Killer is a Jamaican dancehall band that has stirred controversy for some violent and homophobic lyrics.

The band has performed in many countries, including the U.K., Canada and the United States. The band’s leader, Rodney Price, also performed with the band No Doubt before the 2002 Super Bowl American football game.

In denying the temporary work permits in writing, the Chief Immigration Officer stated he was satisfied that it was ‘contrary to the requirements of the community as a whole’ to grant the temporary permits that would have allowed Bounty Killer to perform here in early December 2005.

Mr. Manderson said he took into account the controversial nature of Bounty Killer’s song lyrics and stage act.

Evidence produced during the hearing indicated that Mr. Manderson had asked the Cayman Music and Entertainers Association for an endorsement to having Bounty Killer perform here.

In October, CMEA president Barrie Quappe told the Cayman Observer the organisation did not want to see groups with ‘overtly sexual or violent lyrics’ performing in the Cayman Islands. She also indicated CMEA had communicated its views to Mr. Manderson and the government.

CMEA refused to recommend Bounty Killer to Mr. Manderson, and that, along with the fact that Mr. Price had been charged with a profanity offence in Trinidad in August 2004, were two reasons Mr. Manderson cited in an affidavit for not granting the temporary permits.

Mr. Hall-Jones asked if Mr. Manderson had the powers to deny the temporary permits for the reasons he stated.

‘Is censorship by the Chief Immigration Officer within his powers?’ he asked.

Mr. Hall-Jones argued Mr. Manderson should not have relied on the advice of CMEA to make his decision, partially because CMEA had no legal standing and partially because it had an inherit conflict of interest.

‘CMEA is effectively a trade union for Cayman musicians and entertainers,’ he said.

Justice Henderson said it was permissible for Mr. Manderson to consult with CMEA, but agreed it would have been wrong for him to give up his discretion to an outside body. He also noted the possible conflict of interest.

‘The Chief Immigration Officer seems to be using CMEA as a litmus test for community standards,’ Mr. Henderson said.

The possibility of Bounty Killer inciting violence in Cayman during or after his concert was also broached.

Mr. Hall-Jones cautioned against allowing rulings based on what they could potential incite.

‘If that were the case, you could never put on a production of Macbeth because it could incite infanticide, or put on a production of Arsenic and Old Lace, because it could be incitement for landlord ladies to poison their tenants.’

Mr. Hall-Jones said the CIO had exceeded his statutory powers in acting as an entertainment censor.

He also said the appropriate body with which Mr. Manderson should consult if he felt there were possible risks of having Bounty Killer perform here was the Royal Cayman Islands Police.

Mr. Henderson noted that there must have been a sizable portion of the people in Cayman who wanted Bounty Killer to come here, otherwise the promoter would not have booked the act.

The issue went beyond public taste to risk, Mr. Henderson said.

‘You can’t prevent an entertainer from coming here simply because of public taste,’ he said.

Mr. Hall-Jones also pointed out that Bounty Killer had performed in Cayman before without incident, and that other similar acts, such as Beenie Man and Elephant Man, have also performed here without incidents.

Speaking on behalf of the defendant, crown council Reshma Sharma noted the violent nature of the lyrics of such Bounty Killer songs as Gun Down, and homophobic lyrics of other songs that called for the ‘burning of queers’.

‘This is not along the lines of parody,’ she said, adding that the nature of the lyrics showed the character of Mr. Price.

Mr. Henderson did not agree the lyrics necessarily showed Mr. Price’s character, noting Mr. Price himself could find the lyrics silly, but a lucrative way of making money.

Commenting on why Bounty Killer had been granted a temporary permit previously and not this time, Ms Sharma noted there had been a change on the island with regard to crime.

‘Steps are being taken to control that type of behaviour,’ she said. ‘The increase of crime makes it reasonable to prohibit Bounty Killer given the social context.’

Regardless, Ms Sharma said Mr. Manderson’s decision was not unreasonable given all of the evidence available to him at the time he made it, and thus not subject to judicial review.

Mr. Henderson seemed to agree.

‘The decision-maker has a right to be wrong,’ he said. ‘The decision was not manifestly unreasonable.’

Justice Henderson said he would deliver a decision on the matter today.