Editorial for 9 August: Chief justice’s ruling: Critical to Cayman

In the news business, we sometimes find it difficult to interest readers in matters relating to politics.

However, there are always exceptional cases, and the one being decided this afternoon by Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie involving the eligibility of Education Minister Tara Rivers to stand for public office certainly falls into that category.

Simply put, there is a lot at stake in Justice Smellie’s ruling and most people in the country will be watching.

First and foremost, the judge’s decision will constitute a critical interpretative tool for the local Elections Law and of the 2009 Constitution Order. Whether Ms Rivers is or is not able to maintain her position, and the reasons for that, will play a key role in future decision-making by political parties and candidates when it comes to nomination day. In short, the Rivers decision is a landmark case for the Cayman Islands.

Second, there is the likelihood that the country will lose its education and employment minister if Ms Rivers is determined to be ineligible. We are hard-pressed to think of two more critical areas in government, and the ruling Progressives political party will have to take due care in choosing a successor.

Third, there is the matter of choosing a successor for Ms Rivers as a representative from West Bay if she is disqualified. How that might occur, whether through selection of the fifth-place finisher in the district from the May 2013 election or through a by-election process, will be equally important to the country’s future, in part because the hosting of another election for West Bay is likely to come with considerable expense.

Finally, there are questions regarding the current operation of the Elections Law and the Constitution raised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association election observers who were brought in for the general election.

These are questions separate from the specific issue of whether Ms Rivers is eligible to stand for office. However, they do go to the heart of whether Cayman’s current elections regime is too restrictive, both in terms of who can vote and who can stand for office.

No matter what the outcome of today’s Grand Court ruling, there is a serious question as to whether talented and well-educated individuals, such as Ms Rivers, should be prevented from seeking office in the future because they lived off-island for a few years.

So today’s judgment is vitally important, both to Cayman today and Cayman in the future.