Rules concerning who can become a justice of the peace in the Cayman Islands, as well as how those individuals must conduct themselves, may soon be governed by elected lawmakers.
The Progressives-led government said last week that it had agreed to change the territory’s Summary Jurisdiction Law to allow for the creation of regulations to address the selection, training and code of conduct for justices of the peace.
The change to the law would require a vote of the Legislative Assembly. However, future regulatory changes could be decided in Cabinet meetings, which are currently held behind closed doors, if the initial law was passed.
Justices of the peace are appointed by the Cayman Islands governor and have quite expansive powers under existing legislation, including the ability to sign arrest and search warrants, approve land registers and witness document authorizations. It is understood the governor will still be responsible for those appointments, acting within regulations determined by elected officials. The powers of appointed JPs, of which there are now more than 200, came into sharp focus earlier this year when a local woman successfully challenged a 2012 police search of her vehicle and home.
The warrant was issued against Sandra Catron’s home and vehicle by a justice of the peace who neither recorded what police said to him during the warrant application process or obtained an oath of truthfulness prior to the warrant application from the officers. Justice Alexander Henderson, who heard the case, said failing to record the statements of police was not a good practice and that applying for a warrant before a “judicial figure” without swearing an oath was a blatant violation of the Criminal Procedure Code.
In addition, the justice of the peace involved in the case appeared not to understand the allegation against Ms Catron and admitted that police never provided him with evidence relative to any warrant he was asked to sign.
Courts administrator Kevin McCormac said the Catron matter caused Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie some concern. Mr. McCormac said the chief justice has since offered some recommendations regarding the potential regulation of JPs.
“The underlying concern is just to ensure that there are clear criteria for appointment [of JPs] and clear expectations of what the role involves,” Mr. McCormac said. “There should be clear requirements for training and oversight to ensure that these very important responsibilities are discharged by people who have the confidence and competence to do them well.” The justice of the peace who signed the search warrants against Ms Catron in 2012 had received no formal legal training and manages a tire repair shop.
The JP involved, Louis M. Ebanks, testified in Grand Court that he signed a search warrant alleging Ms Catron had been involved in misuse of ICT network offenses, even though he did not appear to comprehend the offense described in the warrant. About a month after approving the search warrant, Mr. Ebanks signed a notarized affidavit in which he stated police officers seeking the warrant provided him with absolutely no evidence regarding the offense Ms Catron had allegedly committed.
According to the affidavit from Mr. Ebanks: “… police never provide me with any evidence when having a warrant signed.” The search warrants were eventually determined to be “unlawful” by Grand Court Justice Henderson who judged that Ms Catron was eligible to collect damages from the crown. She has since turned down a $3,000 settlement offer over the search, calling it “insulting.”