The Grand Court on Thursday set 11 December to hear a constitutional challenge to government’s 2011 decision to close a section of West Bay Road.
Justice Alexander Henderson allowed the challenge to that 19-month-old decision to proceed, as Mourant Ozannes lawyers for the Cayman Islands attorney general announced the administration was dropping efforts to throw out the case.
At the end of a 90-minute hearing, Justice Henderson acceded to a three-day slot after court officers granted the mid-December days for arguments in the case, likely to rely on testimony both from West Bay residents and top government officials, including Attorney General Sam Bulgin.
“You have probably received information that the application to strike out has been withdrawn,” Mourant attorney Hector Robinson told the court, affirming the previous day’s decision by the attorney general to contest the late-February challenge by West Bay’s Concerned Citizens group.
“The conduct will revert after today to the attorney general’s chambers,” he said, indicating Mourant would withdraw from the defence.
He did not elaborate on government’s decision to drop opposition to the courtroom battle, saying only that “we have seen quite a bit of documentation. There are a number of issues about the decision-making process, which were impugned in the claim,” he said.
The original 25 February writ, filed by Concerned Citizens’ Alice Mae Coe, Annie A. Multon, Ezmie Smith and Betty R. Ebanks, accused the governor, the attorney general, the ministry of works and the National Roads Authority of violating both constitutional and common law by granting rights-of-way on West Bay Road – and transferring authority for the land – to the ForCayman Investment Alliance, a Dart Realty-government public-private partnership.
The ForCayman Investment Alliance plans for the area include closure of 4,000 feet of road parallel to Public Beach, easing Dart’s expansion of nearby commercial and recreational facilities, and reconstruction of the old Marriott Courtyard. The project has already extended to completion of new roads in the vicinity.
Justice Henderson created a timetable prior to the 11 December hearing, ordering amendments to the original petition by 8 September, setting a schedule for exchanges of documents, evidence, skeleton arguments, replies, witness lists and case authorities starting 25 August and ending 6 December, immediately prior to opening arguments.
He would convene a case-management conference during the first week of October, he said, ensuring the schedule’s integrity.
“This is a reasonably complex matter,” he warned, citing urgent “public interest” in a quick resolution and worrying aloud “if Cabinet secrecy would be an issue” under the attorney general.
Mr. Robinson was unable to reassure the court, saying “I don’t know”, indicating the issue might arise, but concluding that “we’ll know more as we move forth”.
Attorney for the citizens group, Irvin Banks, anticipated his arguments would rely on Cayman heritage rights, based on oral tradition, common law and prescriptive rights, adducing evidence on the testimony of “five or six witnesses”, including the four plaintiffs.
He anticipated an opening address between “two hours and three hours”, and asked for a full day to complete his presentation. “We can probably do it fairly quickly,” Mr. Banks said.
Mr. Robinson said he had seen “quite a bit of documentation”, and would seek more, asking Justice Henderson for “the better part of four days” to complete arguments and a full week to resolve the matter.
Denying the request, Justice Henderson said “there is some priority to this the matter”, observing no injunctions had stopped further development at the site and wondering about “public concern that this be dealt with quickly”.
Speaking after Thursday’s adjournment, both Ms Multon and Ms Ebanks said the four plaintiffs were satisfied by the court’s decision, and looked forward to December.
“We are pleased with the outcome,” the pair agreed. “They removed the motion to strike out [the 25 February writ] because they see we have a good case.
“They see we have eight strong legs to stand on,” Ms. Multon said.