Gov’t may change religious queries

On the heels of two reports that questioned government’s policy regarding religious queries on job applications, Governor Stuart Jack has signaled that it’s time for a change.

All those seeking employment with the Cayman Islands government are currently asked to state their religious affiliation on job forms.

Two separate reports issued by the Human Rights Committee last year stopped short of saying the government should remove those questions. However, one of the reports did note ‘the requirement (that job applicants state their religion) could . . . conceivably present an opportunity to discriminate on the basis of religion.’

In a second case, a settlement was reached after government proposed to insert a clause into a Rastafarian man’s employment contract which prohibited him from speaking about his religion at work. The government has since removed the proposed clause.

The Compass recently asked Governor Jack whether the Cayman Islands might see a change in the policy in the foreseeable future. The Governor simply responded with a ‘yes.’

‘I don’t think that the religious beliefs of an individual should be relevant to their application for a government job,’ said Governor Jack.

The Governor agreed that it’s not a decision he can make unilaterally, but he does appoint the person who has direct control over civil service issues.

‘It’s something which is the direct responsibility of the Chief Secretary, but ultimately it is my responsibility,’ said Governor Jack. ‘That is being dealt with.’

He said the government would be sensitive to the values of the Cayman Islands community, while at the same time recognizing human rights issues that are there.

The attorney who helped review the HRC cases from last year, James Austin-Smith, did raise concerns about the government’s policy in an earlier e-mail to the Compass.

‘Save in cases where being of a particular religion is an appropriate requirement for a post; the HRC believes these questions serve no useful purpose,’ Mr. Austin-Smith wrote.

Murder Cases Considered

Another matter reviewed by the Human Rights Committee in 2006 dealt with mandatory life sentences for those convicted of murder. Six inmates appealed to the HRC asking it to investigate their cases.

The committee ruled that laws which impose life sentences for all offences of murder are ‘contrary’ to the European Convention on Human Rights. It said those laws might create a situation where someone convicted in a mercy killing would serve the same sentence as someone convicted in a triple homicide.

‘It’s something that was very much on my agenda already,’ said Governor Jack. ‘How we deal with those people in a way that protects the community, but also does the right thing . . . .can’t tell you what the solution is going to be, but we are looking at it.’

The Governor said the review was unlikely to lead to anyone getting out of prison in the near future, although he does have the power to order prisoners released outright.

‘What we’re looking at is the system. I’m not going to talk about individuals,’ said Governor Jack. ‘We have to get the system, possibly our legislation . . . to look at that, before we can say how we apply it to individuals.’

Cayman Islands Attorney General Sam Bulgin has said the government will make a formal reply to the HRC recommendations regarding mandatory life murder sentences.