Speaker of the House chastises newspaper and reporter
Legislators voted to ask the
Attorney General to prosecute the Caymanian Compass and one of its reporters
over an article and editorial that the Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence said
impugned the integrity of the Legislative Assembly and its members.
Mrs. Lawrence, at the beginning of
a meeting of the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, 9 December, read a
statement chastising reporter Brent Fuller and the Compass.
She suspended the reporter’s
reporting privileges at the Legislative Assembly for the rest of the week and
called on Cayman Free Press, which publishes the Caymanian Compass, and Mr.
Fuller to apologise for an article titled “Closed-door FOI review set” with a
secondary headline of “Secret FOI review set”, and an editorial entitled “On
Wikileaks”, both published on Wednesday, 8 December.
The article had reported that a
six-member Legislative Assembly subcommittee was scheduled to meet “in camera”,
or privately, this month to review Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law – a
review mandated under the legislation which came into effect in January 2009.
The subcommittee was set up by a select committee of the whole House of the
Legislative Assembly chaired by Mrs. Lawrence.
The Speaker said she was “appalled”
to read the article “impugning the integrity of the members of the
“When the free press, however,
begins whittling away at the root of democracy – defaming the integrity of the
country’s Legislative Assembly and the integrity of its honourable members, by
deliberately planting in the minds of the public, the idea that the persons
they have chosen to represent them are not worthy of their trust and respect,
and imbuing the carrying out of their legislative duties with sinister
proportions, it is time for this Chair to act,” the Speaker said.
She said this was not the first
time an attempt had been made to “belittle and besmirch” the Legislative
Assembly, its members and the Speaker.
Mrs. Lawrence quoted section 18 (2)
of the Immunities, Powers and Privileges Law which covers the publication of
statements or reports on the Assembly or any committee. Breaching this law is
an offence that carries a penalty of an $800 fine and imprisonment of 12
She said reporting on the
Legislative Assembly was a “privilege, not a right… It is a privilege that is
awarded by my office and which can be revoked by my office”.
Later in the meeting, independent
member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller proposed a motion resolving to
ask the Attorney General to prosecute Mr. Fuller and the Compass under the Legislative
Assembly (Immunities, Powers and Privileges) Law (1999 Revision) and to cancel,
rather than suspend, Mr. Fuller’s reporting privileges at the Legislative
The lawmakers spent most of the day
debating the issue before taking a vote on the motion, which was passed with
nine votes to four.
Mr. Miller, Rolston Anglin, Mark
Scotland, Cline Glidden, Eugene Ebanks, Dwayne Seymour, Moses Kirkconnell,
Arden McLean and Anthony Eden voted for the motion. Premier McKeeva Bush, Mike
Adam, Ellio Solomon and Alden McLaughlin voted against it, while Leader of the
Opposition Kurt Tibbetts and Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly were
absent for the vote.
Mr. Bush, responding to Mr.
Miller’s motion, said that Mrs. Lawrence’s actions in suspending Mr. Fuller and
calling for an apology in response to the article and editorial were
appropriate. “The Speaker made the point,” he said.
He urged members and Mr. Miller to
let the Speaker’s statement deal with the issue, but Mr. Miller said he could
not acquiesce to a request not to bring the motion, saying that he was following
the rules of the Legislative Assembly.
“When select committees are
established, they are established under rules, which will be followed. What we
are doing is following the rules… There is no sense having laws if we are not
going to enforce them. I cannot with a clear conscience allow people to break
the law as, in my view, they have done. I am asking parliament to ask the
Attorney General to prosecute these people for breaking Section 18 (2) of the
law and let the court decide whether they broke the law,” Mr. Miller said.
George Town MLA Alden McLaughlin,
while agreeing with the Speaker’s statement, said a call to prosecute the Compass
and the reporter was “a bit over the top”. “I think it is calling for much more
in terms of a first breach or a first offence than I think is necessary or
appropriate,” he said.
He added: “We have to be careful as
members of this house, even when we are upset or outraged by these things, that
we don’t run the risk of over-reacting and creating the impression that somehow
this house is intent upon censoring or intimidating the media and keeping them
from doing their job.”
Immediately prior to the vote, Mr.
Bush told members they were not bound by collective responsibility and urged
them to vote their conscience.
After the motion was passed, a move
the Premier Bush described as a “very serious” one because it involves the
privileges of the House, he asked what the next steps would be.
Attorney General Sam Bulgin
responded that he had been “asked” to prosecute rather than “directed”,
therefore it was now up to him to decide whether to prosecute the paper and
reporter. “It is still a matter for me to determine whether there is evidence
to prosecute, whether there is an offence or whether there is any additional issue
of public interest. I wish to say nothing more about the matter except we will
certainly look at it and make a determination based on my own assessment of the
facts and circumstances,” he said.
On whether the Speaker would cancel
the reporter’s privilege to cover meetings of the Legislative Assembly, Mrs.
Lawrence said she stood by her statement and would wait to see if Mr. Fuller
apologised, adding that she would report back to members on the matter.
The Legislative Assembly will not
meet again this month. Its next meeting will be held in January.