Constitution transcripts ordered released

The Cabinet Office has released transcripts
from the three rounds of constitutional negotiations between the Cayman Islands
and UK government in compliance with a ruling last month from the Information

The Human Rights Committee had requested
the transcripts be made public in a Freedom of Information request in March,
but was turned down by the Cabinet Office, which cited confidentiality and the
possibility of prejudicing international relations with the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office as reasons for not releasing the documents.

Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert
ruled that the transcripts of the three rounds of meetings should be released,
pointing out that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had agreed that the
documents could be made public.

Copies of the transcripts of the meetings
held between September 2008 and February 2009, were given to Sara Collins, the
former chairman of the now-defunct Human Rights Committee, which was party to
the talks, and to all other participants in the negotiations, according to a
statement from the Cabinet Office on Thursday. Copies have also been made
available on the Cabinet Office website.

Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor said: “In
late November 2009, the UK reversed its original decision concerning the
confidentiality of the talks. This required the Cabinet Office to carefully
consider any obligation it might hold to individuals who had taken part in
negotiations with the understanding that the proceedings would be private.

“There was additional concern that local
and overseas parties to future negotiations might be inhibited by the precedent
of discussions designated as private, becoming public after the fact.”

Mr. Connor said he believed that the
Information Commissioner’s finding that the public interest outweighed any such
concerns “demonstrates the integrity of the system of checks and balances built
into the Freedom of Information Law by the Cabinet Office”.

The meetings, held in London and Cayman,
determined the contents of a draft constitution for the Cayman Islands, on
which the public voted to accept in a referendum in May last year.

Ms Collins said she was pleased that the
transcripts were now in the public domain, but “was not sure I now understand,
given recent media reports, who instructed that it should not be released to us
in the first place”.

She said she was told a confidentiality
agreement bound the parties not to discuss what happened during the talks. “We
said repeatedly that we could not recall seeing or signing any such agreement
and that it was important for the parties to know what had happened. It was for
that reason that we make such remarks as we were able to at the time during our
closing remarks (which were made on an open basis) in an attempt to shed light
on what had transpired, both good and bad.

“It was also for that reason that we spoke
about our understanding of certain compromises that had been achieved on the
Bill of Rights and how that had developed,” Ms Collins said.

She added that it had been the position of
the Human Rights Committee that the public had a right to be informed about the
discussions. “Perhaps it is unfortunate that the effect of the release will be
largely symbolic and for the historic record, but we should not underestimate
the importance of that,” she said.

“There were lengthy discussions, and
difficult decisions to be taken. We may all now be able to gain a better
understanding of the process if we choose to take advantage of the opportunity
to read the document in its entirety,” she added.

The released transcripts consist of more
than 1,350 pages.

Ms Collins suggested it was also necessary
to have access to other papers exchanged during the talks, as well as the
position papers of the various parties, to ensure that remarks in the
transcripts were not taken out of context. 

Delegates from Cayman included
representatives from the government, the Human Rights Committee, the Ministers
Association, and the Seventh Day Adventists.

The transcripts can be viewed by the public
in the Freedom of Information document library of the Cabinet Office website; in the resources section of the 2009 Constitution
website; and at the government website

The Cabinet Office is also considering
making audio records of the proceedings available to the public.


Jennifer Dilbert
Photo: File

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