A diverse international group of
lawyers, human rights activists and freedom of information advocates have
called on the Legislative Assembly’s Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence to
repeal a motion that asked for the prosecution of the Caymanian Compass and one
of its journalists.
In an open letter to the Speaker,
the group also called the Speaker to use her influence “to ensure that
legislative discussions about reform of the Freedom of Information Law are held
in public, absent clear grounds for secrecy”.
At a meeting of the Legislative
Assembly on 9 December, Mrs. Lawrence suspended reporter Brent Fuller’s press
privileges for a day and called on him and the Caymanian Compass to apologise
for an article and editorial about a legislative subcommittee meeting to review
the Freedom of Information Law in private. At the same meeting, a majority of
legislators voted to support a motion by independent member Ezzard Miller to
ask Attorney General Sam Bulgin to prosecute Mr. Fuller and the Compass under
the Legislative Assembly (Immunities, Powers and Privileges) Law (1999
Revision) and to cancel the reporter’s press privileges in the House.
Mr. Bulgin this week announced
there would be no prosecution.
The group said that its welcomed
the Attorney General’s decision not to prosecute, but said that the motion
passed by the Legislative Assembly was still likely to exert “a chilling effect
on local coverage of this important public body”.
The letter to the Speaker of the
House from 19 civil society organisations across the globe read: “We believe
that both the revocation of privileges and the call for prosecution represent a
breach of Fuller’s right to freedom of expression as protected under both
international law (see, for example, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights) and section 11 of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009.
“The articles consist of legitimate
comment on the Legislative Assembly, a key public body in the Cayman Islands.
We believe that the right to engage in criticism of elected bodies, even of a
trenchant or unreasonable nature, is central to a democracy.”
The organisations added that, as
advocates of openness, they believed it was inappropriate for the legislature
to conduct discussions regarding reform of an access to information law in
“International good practice
dictates that such meetings should be conducted in the open and that any
committee reviewing such a law should provide as much opportunity as possible
for public input. Secrecy would have to be justified with specific reasons by
the chairman of such a committee,” the letter read.
Mrs. Lawrence and legislators have
argued that the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly state that
legislative committee meetings shall be held in private and that proceedings
shall not be published until after the committee has presented its report to
The open letter came from
organisations in Europe, Africa, Canada, the Middle East, the Caribbean and
South America, as well as individual lawyers, journalists and information right
Toby Mendel of the Centre for Law
and Democracy in Canada, one of the signatories of the letter, said that the organisations
had decided to write to the Speaker because they felt the Legislative Assembly
had made an “egregious” effort to stifle freedom of expression.
“I think the attempt by the
Legislative Assembly to fire a shot across the bow of the Caymanian Compass was
quite illegitimate. What the Caymanian Compass published, in my opinion as a
long-standing freedom of expression campaigner, was quite uncontroversial. I
didn’t see anything in it to warrant an angry response from the legislature,
much less a threat of the sort that was issued,” he said.
He added that the assertion that
reporting on the legislature is a privilege, rather than a right, as stated by
Mrs. Lawrence on 9 December, was “contrary to international law”.
Under the Legislative Assembly’s
Standing Orders, the presiding officer – the Speaker – “may grant a general
permission” to media representatives to attend meetings of the House and can
revoke that permission if rules made by the presiding officer are contravened.
A request for comment from Mrs.
Lawrence regarding the letter was not answered by publication time.