An open records request that will pit the Cayman Islands governor’s office against Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert in a first-of-its-kind court hearing has been scheduled for later this year.
However, the person who initially filed the request for information is now out of the case, according to court records.
The open records applicant, UK citizen John Evans, had asked for a copy of a complaint made in 2010 by former Operation Tempura legal adviser Martin Polaine and carried forward by Senior Investigating Officer Martin Bridger. The request also seeks the subsequent evaluation of that complaint done by Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor’s office.
The request was initially denied by Mr. Taylor, but that decision was overturned by Mrs. Dilbert. Mr. Taylor then challenged Mrs. Dilbert’s ruling as “unreasonable” in a judicial review application filed with the court.
Earlier this year, Mr. Evans abruptly asked for his open records request to be withdrawn and that the matter be ended. According to court records filed in June, rather than withdraw the entire matter, Mr. Evans has simply been removed as a party to the case.
Mr. Evans objected to his removal last week and said he would seek to challenge it.
“The original [Freedom of Information] application and the appeal were authored in the UK and are subject to copyright. They are not the property of the [information commissioner’s office] to do whatever her office likes to do with them,” he said.
A 30 October, 2013 hearing on the judicial review has been set by presiding judge Sir Alan Moses. Attorneys for the governor’s office asked that the matter be heard in judge’s chambers rather than in open court.
Mr. Evans, who was a key police witness during the 2007-2009 Operation Tempura corruption investigation, has previously questioned the usefulness of the court hearing involving the information commissioner and the governor’s office.
“I am … satisfied that no useful purpose will be served by wasting what is likely to be a substantial amount of public money pursuing this any further,” Mr. Evans wrote in a letter to Governor Taylor’s staff officer Tom Hines earlier this year. “I am … not convinced that the case presented by the information commissioner is sufficiently robust to secure the release of the requested documents.”
Mr. Evans also said that he, as the applicant for the information, has effectively been shut out of the court proceedings.
“In fact, the impression being given is that, although they are happy to use my application and the subsequent appeal as grounds to challenge the [Freedom of Information] Law, any further involvement on my part is an unwelcome distraction.”
Both Mr. Hines and Deputy Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers previously declined to make any on-record statements regarding Mr. Evans’ claims.
Mr. Evans said there were “lines of argument” he wished to pursue in the case that may indeed have made public officials in the UK and in Cayman uncomfortable.
“These relate to whether the inquiry into the complaint [by Messrs. Bridger and Polaine] was conducted lawfully in the first place and the questionable legality of the governor’s later actions in declaring the complaints defamatory, but then failing … to initiate any action over this.”
Again, representatives of Mr. Taylor’s office did not respond to claims the information applicant made in this regard. Mr. Taylor previously refused to release copies of either the initial complaint or the 185-page review of it done by London-based attorney Benjamin Aina because Mr. Taylor believed certain claims Mr. Polaine and Mr. Bridger made against members of the attorney general’s office and the local judiciary were defamatory. Defamation is a criminal offence in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Aina’s review cost the Cayman Islands government more than $300,000 to produce.
Some of the allegations were revealed in an article published in the UK media back in 2011. Mr. Bridger has declined to release copies of the complaint to the Compass because he said he promised Governor Taylor he would not do so.
“I believe the decision to refuse to release these documents was actually prompted by fears at the [UK] Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the contents would undermine the credibility of several senior civil servants … with the defamation argument merely being used as a convenient smokescreen,” Mr. Evans said.