Attorneys for both sides offered final arguments in Grand Court on Friday afternoon, addressing Chief Justice Anthony Smellie regarding the qualifications of Tara Rivers to contest elections and serve as a legislator and Cabinet minister in the Cayman Islands.
Adjourning a full day after the initial Wednesday-Thursday schedule for the case, Chief Justice Smellie ended the session at 4.30pm, offering no hint as to when he might render a decision, although earlier acknowledging the urgency of the matter.
Abraham Dabdoub, attorney for petitioner John Gordon Hewitt, reminded the court of Justice Smellie’s “enormous responsibility”, quoting the Cayman Islands Constitution that “the decision of the Grand Court cannot be appealed”.
He counselled caution, saying “this matter can go no further. The court must be very careful because there is no review. The court is responsible for elections, the Constitution and the whole democratic system”.
Earlier, both Mr. Dabdoub and Ms Rivers’s attorney, Professor Jeffrey Jowell, sparred over the meaning of “residence”. The Constitution requires all election candidates to reside locally for seven years to qualify for nomination. Additionally, no candidate may be absent from Cayman more than 400 days during that seven years.
“For seven years, [Ms Rivers] has been outside the Cayman Islands, except for visits home,” Mr. Dabdoub said, quoting “her own admission”.
He disputed Ms Rivers’s earlier argument that she was a student at London law firm Allen & Overy and thereby qualified for one of the constitutional exceptions to the seven-year residency rule.
The attorney pointed to January correspondence from Allen & Overy “confirm[ing] Tara Rivers was employed by this legal firm as an associate from 2 October, 2006, to 30 May, 2009,” and detailing her work in the company’s International Capital Markets Group “drafting and negotiating various transactions and security documents”.
Nor was she a Cayman Islands resident during that period, he said, disputing any alternate interpretations. “Residence,” he said, “means the absence of your presence in the Cayman Islands. Any other interpretation would be ridiculous and undermine the Constitution. It cannot be extended to distort the meaning.”
Professor Jowell argued that “residency is a legal concept” and “must be given the most generous interpretation” because any “decision by the court to intervene and overturn the will of the people is one of gravest acts the court ever undertakes”.
Citing at least three precedents, he argued residency could be multiple, saying “we have clear evidence of continued residency” locally by Ms Rivers, listing her Uncle Bob’s Road home, her car, her keys to both, her nine family visits during her nearly 31-month absence, and “participating vigorously in public life, in public elections, campaigning for candidates. She has kept her ties”.
Supporting her claim to be a student at Allen & Overy, Professor Jowell described the firm’s extensive training programmes.
“Global training is what they do, one of their functions. Look at Allen & Overy’s sheet with Tara Rivers’s training history. She took 115 instructional hours, 68 instructional classes, 43 lectures, two seminars and 10 tutorials,” he said.
Justice Smellie created a brief flurry when he asked for arguments on the Constitution’s 400-day exemption, acknowledging the attorney’s had agreed the clause was unnecessary to their arguments, but saying it posed a crucial constitutional issue.
“I am troubled by this,” he said, describing the subject as “the proverbial elephant in the room”.
Subsequently, however, neither attorney addressed the matter in depth. Mr. Dabdoub declined to add the 400-day issue to his original petition, claiming it was unnecessary to his case, that the subject “was implicit” in the discussion of residency and unlikely “to take us any further.
“The facts are what they are, and are not a matter of pleading,” he said.
Mr. Jowell vigorously resisted the discussion, conceding that Ms Rivers “may have fallen foul of the requirement, but that it is not the point.
“There is a strict 21-day limit,” he said, in the Elections Law on bringing allegations against Ms Rivers. Because of the “particularity” of the clause, the court was statutorily barred from adding the 400-day issue now.
He nonetheless sought to renew her student-exemption claim, adding she had been abroad to boost her own “education and experience”, intending “to return to the Cayman Islands to give something to the economy and the people of the country”.
Meanwhile, on Saturday morning, Ms Rivers moved to dispel what she called a “misinterpretation” of an earlier courtroom discussion about her allegiance to the Queen of England.
Disputing Mr. Dabdoub’s claim she had denied allegiance to the sovereign, Ms Rivers said she had only observed that gaining a British passport was “no indication of allegiance, and I was never required to pledge allegiance.
“Mr. Dabdoub deliberately misconstrued that on many occasions. The chief justice recognised that was incorrect. It is not that I do not have allegiance to the queen,” Ms Rivers said.