Constitution talks continue this week
With a few exceptions, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce and the Mission of Seventh-day Adventists support changes to the constitution being proposed by the ruling government.
The major bone of contention among both non-governmental entities is the Bill of Rights.
The Chamber membership is deeply divided over whether that proposal, which is designed to protect the rights of individuals against government intrusion, should be placed in a constitution or whether it should be enshrined in local legislation.
Officials with the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Monday in no uncertain terms that Cayman’s revised constitution would have to contain a Bill of Rights chapter before Britain would accept it.
‘There are significant implications if the Bill of Rights is incorporated into the constitution including…the time consuming task of ensuring that all local legislation does not contradict the items included in a bill of rights,’ the Chamber stated in its constitution position paper which was released last week.
Meanwhile, the church of Seventh-Day Adventists, which does not necessarily oppose placing a bill of rights in the constitution, remains unclear as to whether it will support the bill itself.
‘The church reserves its position in the absence of a draft bill until its wording in considered,’ according to the church’s position.
Government ministers have spoken in general terms about what might be included in a proposed bill of rights, including rights to freedom of expression, rights not to be tortured, the right to marriage between members of the opposite sex, and the right to practice religion.
The Seventh-Day Adventist church has specifically supported including a constitutional provision which provides for the separation of churches and matters of state.
‘The church has always had a healthy and cordial relationship with successive governments,’ the Adventist church position paper stated. ‘However…history reminds us how easily this can change into a church and state alliance, resulting in intolerance and persecution of minority and unpopular groups.’
The government has proposed inserting a ‘freedom of conscience’ provision, which would essentially protect the rights of people to pray and practice their respective beliefs, and which would also prohibit governments from forcing individuals to pray according to certain religious beliefs.
A draft bill of rights isn’t expected until negotiations with the UK conclude.
Both the Chamber and Seventh-Day Adventists support the removal of appointed members from the Cabinet. The Chamber in particular was adamant that the attorney general should no longer hold a voting position in Cabinet, and should no longer be responsible for criminal prosecutions.
The Adventists believe removing appointed members from the Legislative Assembly and Cabinet ‘may be consistent with modern democracy, but that any removal should be replaced by a more sophisticated layer of checks and balances’ on the elected government.
The Chamber also supports greater checks and balances on the executive powers of the Governor and elected government, including the provision of a voter-initiated referendum. The Chamber membership also supported term limits for all members of the Legislative Assembly.
However, members also want the Governor’s powers curtailed in several areas, including the current wording of the constitution, which appears to place the Governor ‘above the rule of law,’ stating that ‘no court of law shall enquire whether or not he has complied with any such instructions’ from locally elected officials.
‘It may be time to re-evaluate the Governor’s responsibilities in order to ensure that there is far greater consultation with our locally elected officials,’ the Chamber’s position stated.
The Chamber also supported the establishment of a National Security Council made up of elected and appointed government members that would provide advice and policy direction for Cayman’s law enforcement agencies.
The church of Seventh-Day Adventists did not state specific positions on many of the government’s constitutional proposals largely because it has not seen a final draft of those plans.