Counsels’ arguments on the eligibility
of government minister Tara Rivers ended late Friday afternoon and Chief
Justice Anthony Smellie must now decide if she can continue in her current
In a surprise twist, the chief justice interrupted
final arguments Friday to order the attorneys representing both parties to
address the constitutional question of the permissible 400-day absence from the
Cayman Islands in the seven years preceding an electoral nomination.
Stopping Ms Rivers’s attorney,
Professor Jeffrey Jowell, in the midst of his closing statement, the chief justice
insisted he could not ignore constitutional provisions about the absences and
their electoral impact.
Mr. Jowell resisted the move, declaring
both sides had agreed the matter of 400 days’ absence described in the
constitution was not at issue.
The Cayman Islands’ constitution says
any electoral candidate must be resident locally for seven years prior to
nomination, with no more than a total absence of 400 days during that
An affidavit by Ms Rivers suggests she
was absent from the Cayman Islands well more than 400 days since 2006,
returning for regular holidays but still exceeding the limit.
“I am troubled by this,” the Chief
Justice said. “It is a constitutional question plainly before the court, no
matter what counsel may or may not have agreed.
“I have evidence that says Tara Rivers
has been absent. I have a duty as a judge to decide the implications of the
challenge. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room.”
Both Mr. Jowell and attorney Abraham
Dabdoub, representing petitioner John Gordon Hewitt, briefly addressed the
The hearing, which lasted three days
and had a packed court room each day, finished about 4.30pm. Chief Justice
Smellie did not indicate when he would deliver a decision.
For more on this story, read Monday’s