Constitutional review agenda set

Cayman’s new Constitutional Review Secretariat is up and running and needs the input of Caymanians.

‘In the same manner that we prepare for our lives, through education and learning, we have to equally prepare for this exercise,’ said CRS Director Suzanne Bothwell at a special press briefing held recently.

She said constitutional review will unfold over four phases.

The first phase will consist of a review of constitutional options that are viable within the Caymanian context.

‘Currently, the secretariat is in the early stages and we are working with Professor Jeffrey Jowell of Blackstone’s Chambers who is a renowned public law and constitutional expert,’ said Mrs. Bothwell.

The office will be working against a backdrop of what both the UK and the people of the Cayman Islands have already been discussing in terms of constitutional reform in Cayman and what other Overseas Territories like the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos and Anguilla have done.

‘What are moving to is greater internal control in the context of being a British Overseas Territory,’ said Mrs. Bothwell.

‘I think that the government is not going to be going to be looking at constitutional reform on the basis of independence,’ she said.

‘Perhaps if after consultation and this exercise and if our assessment results in the finding that the majority of people feel that way, then we’ll have to deal with independence at a separate time and a different time.’

The secretariat is producing a master constitutional graph assessing the constitutions of all the British Overseas Territories, which will provide a helpful snapshot of where Cayman stands in terms of constitutional reform.

‘We need to identify the obsolete issues, the outstanding issues that we addressed at our last review and the issues that have emerged since then,’ said Mrs. Bothwell.

She said the constitution will address reforms on many fronts.

‘Obviously one will be a bill of rights. I think that everyone understands that will be something that will have to go in a modern constitution and where we are is what shape that will take,’ she said.

Other reforms will deal with checks and balances, and some would address the relationship between Her Majesty’s representative in the Cayman Islands and the elected body in the Cayman Islands.

‘One of the issues will be that if individuals are elected to represent the people of the Cayman Islands, to what extent should their ability to do so be limited and to what extent should they have freedom to properly represent their people and that goes straight to the issue of the powers of the governor,’ said Mrs. Bothwell.

‘The ability to consult is what you are seeing in more modern constitutions and that is something we can see being raised in our government at present,’ she said.

‘If elected representatives have, for example, the duty and responsibility of funding certain areas that are under the governor’s responsibility, should they be kept out of the loop; should they have no say?’

Mrs. Bothwell stressed the importance of public input and debate.

A new website will make opinions and documents available for viewing.

But official public consultation will only take place once there is debate among all the members of the Legislative Assembly, setting the stage for Cayman’s constitutional options.

A Public Discussion Paper is expected to be the result of resolutions approved by all members of the Legislative Assembly for subsequent discussion and debate and will set the stage for Phase Two of the constitutional modernisation programme: an intensive public information-sharing period and public consultation period.

Phase Three of the constitutional programme will be a national referendum.

Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor explained that a referendum held at this point, rather than on the final document was the secretariat’s preferred avenue as it set out the government’s parameters for negotiation clearly.

‘If we have a referendum that empowers the government to negotiate with the UK, it is true you may not get everything that you want,’ said Mr. Connor.

‘But the question is whether or not people should be able to say, do we accept what we have gotten? Maybe that should be part of the referendum process to begin with, to determine, do we want to achieve 100 per cent of what is in the referendum, or will 75 per cent suffice for us to go on,’ he said.

Phase Four involves negotiations with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mrs. Bothwell said the suspension of the most recent constitutional review process caused by the inability of the previous UDP government and PPM opposition to reach a consensus offers a great learning opportunity for the Secretariat.

‘And despite the criticisms that may have been levied against them, we have to thank the previous constitutional commissioners for all their hard work,’ she said.

‘But this time, the process is progressing full steam ahead.’

Mrs. Bothwell urged Caymanians to begin reviewing the constitution, posting their views by mail or on the website and joining the secretariat over the next few months in learning about specific constitutional issues.

‘It’s about running your country properly, and people in your country having a say in what happens in their lives,’ she said.

Copies of the consolidated constitution including the 2004 amendments are available at www.gov.ky, search constitution, and public libraries on all three islands.

The Constitutional Review Secretariat offices are on the second floor of Phase 3 of Elizabethan Square. They can be contacted at 949-7900 or 244/4603 or by fax at 946-4023.

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