Bill of rights for Cayman

The Cayman Islands government stated its intention to develop a bill of rights for the country in a 26 page submission to the United Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Committee that was made in October.

‘A significant outcome of the (constitutional) review process will be the promulgation of a bill of rights for the islands that will be compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention,’ a section of the report read.

Exactly what will be written into that bill of rights is expected to be revealed when the island’s Constitutional Review Secretariat releases its plan for constitutional modernisation. That document is now scheduled to be formally released during a public event at Pedro St. James on 12 January.

Both government officials and outside consultants have said that a bill of rights would be necessary if Cayman wanted the UK to accept any proposed constitutional changes.

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee also provided written testimony as part of the submission to the UK, noting that Cayman is one of the few jurisdictions in the world that does not enshrine at least some human rights in its constitution.

‘This does not mean that human rights are alien to the Cayman Islands,’ the report stated. The committee pointed out that Cayman has long had representative government, an independent press, and a legal system that recognises individual liberty as one of its key features.

Instead, the HRC argued that, without an established bill of rights, current constitutional arrangements leave the system open to abuse.

‘Where so much is dependent upon the responsiveness of the democratically elected legislature and the receptiveness of the independent judiciary, there are times when human rights remain vulnerable. In times of emergency or when a particular fear or prejudice emerges, there are relatively few constitutional restraints on the will of the Legislative Assembly; and in such circumstances, the courts are obliged to follow the law, even if it is adopted in breach of human rights.’

The government’s submission to the UK also notes that Cayman has adopted several international human rights conventions, some of which are supported by local legislation.

Governor’s powers

Another change expected to be proposed in the constitutional review process is a shifting of some of the powers held by the Cayman Islands governor to the elected ministers of the Legislative Assembly.

‘The majority party within the government is in favour of the government as a whole having greater autonomy over domestic issues than that currently enjoyed,’ the submitted report states.

Again, just how far the revised constitution will go is not known. There are several areas mentioned in the submission of evidence to the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee which could be addressed by constitutional modernisation.

First, the submission notes that the governor has substantial powers to preside over Cabinet and set its agenda. It states he can also choose not to consult with Cabinet members on certain matters including the administration of government.

The governor is responsible for the assent to, or disallowance of laws. He also retains reserve powers that allow him to propose bills and put them into effect if they are necessary to protect public order.

Special responsibilities of the governor’s office include defence, external affairs, internal security, the police and employment of high ranking public servants.

‘At present, Cabinet views on these issues are not sought, nor is Cabinet consulted in relation to any of these matters,’ the report reads.

The submission to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee does not give specifics of how Cayman proposes to address any of the issues raised. It merely states the government wants to negotiate a rebalancing of the governor’s role to make it more inclusive of the elected members of the Legislative Assembly.