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, politicians 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 convictions and no proof of corruption.
Independent Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller’s motion was defeated 10 votes to five following a lively debate.
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 UK minister in charge of overseas territories, Chris Bryant, in a statement on Friday, welcomed the defeat of the motion, saying he believed it was the ‘right outcome for all concerned. It is in no-one’s interests to pursue such a case.’
He rejected suggestions that the Governor had acted in any way other than in the best interests of the government and people of the Cayman Islands and said Mr. Jack had acted in accordance with the constitution.
UK won’t pay
‘I also reject the suggestion that the UK Government should meet the costs of these investigations, which are entirely a matter for the Cayman Islands Government,’ Mr. Bryant said.
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 agreed with the government’s position that bringing a lawsuit before a local court would be cheaper, but said the investigations had tarnished the Cayman Islands courts’ reputation 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 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 provide a forum in which the Cayman Islands could prove that the widespread corruption alleged by the investigations was not a reality.
Opposition politicians, who had been members of Cabinet when Operation Tempura began, detailed how the Governor first informed them of 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.
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.
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.’