FOI office warns 
police of contempt

Cayman’s Freedom of Information Office has warned the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service that it potentially could fall afoul of contempt of court rules if it refuses to proceed with an open records request filed by the Caymanian Compass.

A ruling made by Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert on 9 June instructed the RCIPS to conduct an internal review of an information request made by the Compass after the police service initially refused to release that information.

That request was for “a copy of the autopsy report and complete RCIPS case file regarding the investigation into the death of [a named person], in accordance with section 34 of the Freedom of Information Law”.

The initial request for the information was made on 10 November, 2010 – eight months ago.

Mrs. Dilbert said the request for internal review did not mean the records the newspaper asked for were public documents. She said the open records process should be followed through to help make that determination.

“This decision directs the RCIPS to process the request as required by the law, but due to the inordinate delays, within the shorter time frame of 10 days,” Mrs. Dilbert said.

Ten days from the 9 June decision ordering the internal review, on 19 July, the information commissioner’s office had received nothing. Indeed, as of 23 June – the date the information commissioner warned of the possibility of contempt, no response had been received.

The Compass did receive a response in the case dated 14 June from RCIPS Information Manager Raymond Christian.

“Please note that your request for an internal review concerning [the case] has been forwarded to the [police] commissioner’s office,” Mr. Christian wrote. “You will receive a response from the commissioner’s office on or before 19 June, 2011.”

Nothing regarding the internal review of the request was sent to the Compass as of Wednesday, 29 June.

“The deadline for completion of the internal review was 19 June, 2011,” Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said. “To the best of our knowledge, to date, no such internal review has been undertaken.”

The police department had also not advised whether it would seek judicial review of the information commissioner’s ruling, as it is allowed to do under the law.

The initial review of the 10 November, 2010, Compass open records request by the information commissioner found that the RCIPS was in violation of several provisions contained within the FOI Law. The review also found the RCIPS had not followed the FOI Law with regard to a separate information request that involved pay raises given to police department employees.

The information about the police raises was released to the public. No decision has been made on the request for the autopsy report and the police case file in the other matter, partly due to delays in an internal review 
being done.

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  1. These are interesting revelations coming, as they do, when the Compass is not alone in its problems with the RCIPS failing to comply with FOI.

    At the beginning of this year I requested that the RCIPS and the Metropolitan Police (Met) supplied copies of all material relating to a 2008 decision not to refund expenses incurred whilst I was retained on Grand Cayman as a ‘required witness’ for Operation Tempura. That decision had apparently been made just after Lyndon Martin was acquitted and appears to have been retaliation for some of the comments I made during the trial criticising the decision to prosecute him.

    This is a long-standing issue; the original FOI request was filed with the Met in October 2008 and had been ignored.

    The latest request specifically asked for copies of minutes of any meetings at which the Special Investigation Advisory Group (SIAG), which was formed in December 2008 by ACP James Smith, discussed the expenses. This committee, or group, originally included the Deputy Chief Secretary and Chief Officer for the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs Donovan Ebanks, Solicitor General Cheryl Richards, Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson, Strategic Advisor to the Chief Secretary Peter Gough, SIO Martin Bridger and a representative from Government Information Services (GIS) to advise on media and community relations.

    The official reply I received from the RCIPS in March denied that the SIAG had ever dealt with the matter, but this contradicted advice I received from a senior officer at the Met back in 2008.

    I challenged Commissioner Baines on this and, on 15 March 2011, he replied – I have today received information which indicates an SIAG meeting took place on the 23rdSeptember 2009, at which your expenses may have been discussed. No paper records or minutes of that SIAG meeting are to hand. The reason for this may be that the information was stored on a computer hard disk, which has been removed from the laptop in which it was stored.

    In the meantime the Met reversed an initial decision not to release any material in their files and sent me minutes of a private discussion held prior to that 23 September SIAG meeting at which the expenses were discussed. Those present were Commissioner Baines, Anne Lawrence (who took over as SIO from Martin Bridger) and Richard Oliver, who was then employed by BGP. It is clear from the record of their discussions that the matter was decided before the SIAG meeting.

    When I again contacted the Commissioner, advising him that the Met had let the cat out of the proverbial bag, the RCIPS miraculously produced what were claimed to be redacted minutes of the 23 September SIAG meeting.

    Now, in reply to a complaint I filed with ICO in the Cayman Islands the RCIPS claim that one of the individuals who attended the meeting and is based in the UK wrote her own notes and they were entered onto a police investigation folder.

    OK, so what is the truth? We have a choice of no minutes because of a missing hard disk, minutes from a private meeting chaired by the Commissioner that were not released by the RCIPS but copied to me by the Met or an un-named individual (I actually know who it is) who took notes at the SIAG meeting but failed to file them properly.

    Look at the line-up of the SIAG and ask yourselves what the heck is going on when a group of public servants at this level hold meetings during which no formal minutes of their deliberations are taken. What are they discussing that is so secret that no proper records are being kept? I don’t know the answer to that but it is currently the subject of another complaint to the OT Minister.

    On the overall issue of FOI, what we seem to be seeing (and I write with considerable experience of the way things work in the UK) in the Cayman Islands is a reflection of the attitude of many UK police forces and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to what they regard as a bit too much public access to their actions. ACPO, with whom the current Commissioner has long-standing connections, has been making strenuous efforts to reduce public access to police records efforts which appear to have backfired because ACPO itself will shortly become a public body as defined under UK FOI laws.