Speaker of the House chastises newspaper and reporter
The attorney general is determining
whether a prosecution can be brought against the Caymanian Compass and one of
its reporters after legislators on Thursday voted to support a motion to ask
him to prosecute the paper and a journalist for “impugning the integrity” of
the Legislative Assembly.
The majority of legislators supported
a motion brought by independent legislator Ezzard Miller to ask Attorney
General Sam Bulgin to prosecute the Compass and reporter Brent Fuller over an
article and editorial that were published on Wednesday, 8 December.
In a statement at the beginning of a
Legislative Assembly meeting on Thursday, 9 December, Speaker of the House Mary
Lawrence suspended the reporter’s press privileges to report on the
legislature’s meetings for the rest of the week and asked for an apology from
him and Cayman Free Press, which publishes the Caymanian Compass, over the
article and editorial.
She took issue with an article titled
‘Closed-door FOI review set’ with a secondary headline on a continuing page of
‘Secret FOI review set’, and an editorial titled ‘On Wikileaks’. The article
stated 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 that came into effect
in January 2009. The subcommittee was set up by a select committee of the
entire 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 is 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 immediately cancel, rather than suspend, Mr. Fuller’s reporting
privileges at the Legislative Assembly.
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. 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 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
“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 is scheduled for January.