The Cayman Islands Grand Court on Friday afternoon adjudged Education and Employment Minister Tara Rivers qualified to stand for – and serve in– elected office, according to the chief justice Friday afternoon.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s decision means that Ms Rivers will continue to hold her post as an MLA for the district of West Bay until the end of her current four-year term. The decision cannot be appealed, and, according to attorneys who argued the case, is effectively the last word on the matter.
In reading his judgment Friday, Mr. Smellie noted that the UK law firm where Ms Rivers worked, Allen & Overy, could be considered an “educational institution” as had been argued by attorneys for Minister Rivers. Ms Rivers resided overseas between 2006 and 2009 prior to returning to Cayman, working and training at London law firm Allen & Overy.
Cayman’s Constitution prohibits an election candidate from absence for seven years prior to their nomination, or more than 400 days during that seven years. The document grants exemptions, however, for a range of activities including government service and education.
“The arguments were compelling that [Ms Rivers] was resident in both places,” Justice Smellie said, citing the frequency and regularity of her visits; storage of records, papers and other personal effects at the family’s West Bay home; and consistent statements that she never intended to live abroad.
“One can be a resident of the islands while also absent in some other place,” he said, “and her evidence is clear and unchallenged. I am satisfied she was resident in the Cayman Islands,” notwithstanding the hiatus in London.
Reviewing her educational record as far back as attendance at a US high school, he declared Allen & Overy to have served as an educational institution “in a modern world and a competitive environment” that “offered intensive and specialised training”.
The Constitution, he said “was not meant to disqualify candidates who went away to gain education and expertise and specialized training.
“The absence of more than 400 days,” he concluded, “is to be disregarded.”
Equally, Ms Rivers’ possession of a US passport was not at issue, permissible, the Chief Justice said, “as an incident of US citizenship” gained simply by virtue of her birth.
“The Cayman constitution expressly tolerates foreign passports,” he said, “because she did not gain citizenship by her own act,” as opposed to seeking naturalisation.
Equally, he said “Caymanian people are tolerant of the notion that their elected representatives have foreign citizenship as long as it is by birth and they do not act under an obligation or obedience to a foreign power.”
In a statement released immediately after the decision, Ms Rivers declared her relief and satisfaction: “I am thankful to the court for responsibly and sensibly setting a clarifying precedent. This ruling reaffirms that I was rightfully elected and now we can all move forward as a country.
“Cayman is at a crossroads and I believe this PPM-led coalition government will put us on the right course. Therefore, I ask for your continued support. We must now put aside any differences and come together to put this blessed country first.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin said he was “elated” by the chief justice’s decision.
“Minister Rivers is an absolutely brilliant woman and she is a most able minister. The prospect of a by-election was worrying as it would disruptive to government that is now settling in,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I will sleep better tonight than I have in many months.
“The law on this has been all over the place,” the premier continued. “I think, for the first time, we have real clarity on the provision about passports, the issue of what qualifies as an ‘educational establishment’ for the purposes of the constitutional provision as well as residency.”