New constitution not law yet

Despite its approval by Her Majesty the Queen of England before the Privy Council in London last week, the Cayman Islands revised constitution is still likely several months away from implementation.

Caymanian voters approved the document, which will replace the Islands’ 1972 Constitution, in a strong majority vote on 20 May.

The Privy Council’s approval means the draft constitution is now the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009, and will be likely to gain approval in the United Kingdom Parliament on Wednesday.

After that, Governor Stuart Jack said a considerable amount of time will have to be spent working out the details.

‘As Governor of the Cayman Islands, I will then be required to decide and proclaim the ‘Appointed Day,’ the legal term for the start date (for the constitution),’ Mr. Jack said in a prepared statement released late Thursday. ‘On that day the new constitution will come into effect and the present constitution will be repealed in its entirety.’

The governor did not set a date for when the new constitution will take effect.

‘I can say that it will not be for several months,’ he said. ‘I must ensure that all essential tasks that are necessary for the smooth introduction of the new constitution have been completed. Failure to ensure this may leave us with damaging constitutional voids, which could become messy, complex or legally deficient.’

Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush, who will become Cayman’s first Premier when the constitution does take effect, said he would advise the governor that a more piece-meal approach should be taken in implementing the governing document.

‘Some things will move more quickly than others,’ Mr. Bush told the Caymanian Compass. ‘We should do what we can do first and work out the other details later.’

One issue the ruling United Democratic Party has asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to consider is the possibility of holding a by-election to fill three new elected member seats created by the new constitution.

The constitution will increase the total number of elected members of the Legislative Assembly in Cayman from 15 to 18, including two new ministerial positions, raising the number of government ministers from five to seven.

The constitution requires an Electoral Boundary Commission review to determine from what districts those MLAs should be elected.

Members of the UDP have said an election could be held before the next general election to fill those seats, but that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would have to assent to any constitutional changes required before such a by-election might be held.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not said whether it will agree to such a move. If no changes are made, it’s expected the three new MLA seats will be filled during the next general election, expected sometime in 2013.

The constitution will create a number of new government posts and offices, including the National Security Council and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, and it will require the reorganisation of others. A number of existing Cayman Islands laws will also have to be amended to ensure they fall into line with the new governing document.

Mr. Bush said he supported the appointment of former political candidate and ex-Maples and Calder attorney Theresa Pitcairn-Lewis as the chair of the country’s new Constitutional Commission, the board charged with reviewing laws and keeping abreast of constitutional issues.

He also said he intended to implement an Island Council, a group of citizens from across all of the political districts in the Cayman Islands to help advise the government.

A small group of civil servants under the direction of Chief Secretary-designate Donovan Ebanks has been appointed to draft a constitutional implementation plan that will direct what Cayman does to prepare for constitutional change both before and after the day the document takes effect.

Opposition MLA Alden McLaughlin, who led the previous government’s efforts to ratify the new constitution, said he looked forward to the implementation of the new agreement.

‘I’m just absolutely delighted and feeling immense satisfaction,’ he said.

Mr. Bush said he still holds to his earlier statements that the new constitution is ‘not the best deal for the Cayman Islands,’ but he said it’s what voters approved.

‘Now we have to make it work for us,’ he said.