The government on Thursday night voted against a motion to consider suing the UK to recover millions of dollars spent on investigations into the police and judiciary.
In a marathon session of the Legislative Assembly, parliamentarians debated bringing legal action against the UK government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office over Governor Stuart Jack’s initiation of investigations into alleged corruption that have cost at least $6.8 million but have yielded no proof of corruption.
Independent Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller’s motion was defeated 10 votes to five following a debate that saw rare criticism levelled at Governor Stuart Jack, and past governors. According to parliamentary rules, sitting governors cannot be criticised in the House.
Anticipating his motion would be defeated, Mr. Miller laid a challenge at the feet of the legal fraternity of the Cayman Islands to take up the case and to sue the original chief investigator in Operation Tempura, Martin Bridger, as well as the Governor, the UK government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
‘The only place I know where you can be exonerated or declared innocent or guilty or… get a clean bill of health when you have been accused of such things as we have been accused of in these investigations is in a court of law,’ Mr. Miller said, adding that he had received legal advice that the case was ‘very winnable’.
The motion sparked a lively day of debate in the House, which began with a statement from Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush that the government had taken legal advice from Jeffrey Jowell QC, who had previously advised the government on the new constitution, on the viability of taking up the lawsuit.
While that legal advice suggested a lawsuit was possible, Mr. Bush said taking the case to the UK courts would be costly and it would be more cost effective to take the case to local courts.
Mr. Miller said he agreed with the government’s position that bringing a lawsuit before a local court would be cheaper, but that the investigations had tarnished the reputation of the Cayman Islands courts internationally. ‘That is why I suggested we may want to do it in London because the decision I believe we could get would be favourable and would have more standing in the international market if we took them on in their ground, on their own soil, in their own courts.’
He described the actions of the Governor in initiating the investigations as ‘unilateral dictatorship’.
Other legislators supporting the motion argued that if the case went through the UK courts, it would receive wider international publicity and attention and provide a forum in which the Cayman Islands could prove that the widespread corruption alleged by the investigations was not a reality.
Opposition MLA for Cayman Brac, Moses Kirkconnell, said: ‘I really don’t believe the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is going to clear our name… It is an opportunity for us to clear our name on a platform we can stand on to show that all the things that have been put in the press have been cleared and we should not be damaged by what has been circulated throughout the world.’
He acknowledged that the government may be right that if it lost the lawsuit, it could be costly, but he argued that the cost of the damage of ‘untruths and bad publicity’ could ultimately cost the Cayman Islands hundreds of millions of dollars in lost investments and revenue from the tourism, real estate and financial industries.
Opposition politicians, who had been members of Cabinet when Operation Tempura began, detailed how the Governor first been informed them of the Operation Tempura, in which undercover Metropolitan Police officers were investigating local police, and the dawning realisation over the following weeks and months that the investigation was getting out of control.
Arden McLean described how while he initially supported the investigation, he became alarmed when Governor Jack informed him and fellow Cabinet members that Judge Alexander Henderson was about to be arrested and that the Attorney General Sam Bulgin had not been consulted.
‘The Governor told us Bridger and the investigating team had no confidence in the Attorney General,’ he said.
After Judge Henderson sued the Cayman Islands Government for $1.25 million for wrongful arrest, Mr. McLean said he told his colleagues he would no longer support the investigation and informed the Governor that he would have to use his reserve powers to release the funds to pay the judge’s damages.
Alden McLaughlin urged the government to support the motion, if only to let the UK government know that there was unity among the parties in their disapproval of the unilateral way the investigations were carried out. He said the motion was merely to ‘consider’ taking legal action and it would be acceptable for the government to vote yes for the motion, take further legal advice and then return to the House and say it had decided not to take legal action.
‘Us and them’
‘This motion provides the platform that we need for the elected representatives of the people of this country to articulate their concerns about this kind of unilateral action, the thumbing of the nose at the elected representatives by Her Majesty’s representative who says ‘I am responsible, my judgement is better than yours, you just go away and leave me alone,’ which [Governor Jack] essentially told the Cabinet of which I was a part,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.
‘If ever there was a case of us and them, this is it,’ he added.
He said he expected the full cost of the investigations, which have been audited up to June 2009 by the Auditor General, to reach $15 million.
Explaining that the government would not supporting the motion, but thanking Mr. Miller for bringing it, Mr. Bush said: ‘I don’t think this motion has done the country any harm. There comes a time when you need to say something publicly.’
He said the government had already made a statement of its ‘disgust’ about the cost of the investigations. ‘We have made that point, but we have considered and we do not believe that we can win this one,’ he said.
He added: ‘We have considered the motion and we don’t think that it will get us anywhere now… I don’t believe we can get our money back, and that is our advice, but if we go down this route, we will have to spend much more money on a court case.’