Neither the police nor the Governor of the Cayman Islands may enter the Legislative Assembly without permission from the Speaker of the House, who enforces strict codes of dress and behavior on visitors.
Preceding Friday’s Legislative Assembly session to complete budget debates and a series of work reports, Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly devoted 30 minutes to a four-page litany of curious and sometimes surprising rules governing daily conduct – for members of the public and officials alike – inside the Legislative Assembly.
“The Legislative Assembly is regarded as the only place of its kind and one in which the speaker has exclusive jurisdiction,” Ms O’Connor-Connolly told the assembly. “Thus, in the Legislative Assembly, the police are subject to the authority of the speaker. Police have no power to enter the Legislative Assembly in the ordinary course of their duties without the consent of the speaker. They have no routine security role within the building or precincts, unless specifically requested by the serjeant-at-arms or requested by the speaker.”
Serjeant-At-Arms Kim Evans, the third person to hold the post, and in the role since 2010, said the Assembly building was the only place in the Cayman Islands where such rules applied. Security guards ensured good order among visitors, but any disciplinary action, arrests or expulsions were his responsibility.
“I can arrest someone, yes, and hand them over to the police, but outside the building,” he said. “It is all at the speaker’s direction and instructions.
“The governor has to ask permission to come here. The commissioner of police has no authority here. His sword cannot pass into the chamber. The serjeant-at-arms is the symbol of authority in the House,” he said.
The post of serjeant-at-arms dates back to 1415 in the United Kingdom. The post is usually held by retired military or police figures and has always been a royal appointment. Mr. Evans is a former RCIPS detective.
In Cayman, the serjeant at-arms consults with the clerk of the Legislative Assembly, ensuring surveillance and security for the speaker and members, and for the building itself.
“Yes,” Mr. Evans said, “I have had to haul some people out on occasion, a couple of times, people that were being disruptive,” although it never involved the House floor, but the visitors gallery.
In London’s House of Commons, the serjeant also has general charge of administrative and custodial functions. His counterpart, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, bears similar responsibilities in the House of Lords.
In November 2008, U.K. Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green was arrested while the Metropolitan Police searched his parliamentary office. While the officers had written consent from the serjeant, they did not have a search warrant. Subsequently, the Speaker of the House announced both a warrant and his own personal approval would be required in future.
Other rules stipulated on Friday by Ms O’Connor-Connolly regard “such orders as [s]he deems necessary for the regulation of the admittance of strangers to the precincts of the assembly,” meaning anyone other than a member or “officer of the assembly.”
Among the regulations was that while “strangers” were welcome to attend legislative gatherings, no one had the right, and could be forbidden to enter the building: “No stranger shall be entitled, as of right, to enter or to remain within the precincts of the assembly,” she said.
Anyone entering the building in contravention of an order by the speaker, Ms O’Connor-Connolly said, or refusing her order to leave, was liable to a fine of $50 and imprisonment for three months.
No one could enter the House more than 30 minutes ahead of a scheduled session, and only by the front door. No eating or drinking is allowed in the public gallery. Seating is limited to designated areas including the Distinguished Strangers Gallery reserved for the governor, the judiciary, justices of the peace, associate and visiting members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, spouses and relatives of MLAs, ministers of religion, visiting parliamentarians, consular officers or overseas dignitaries.
Chamber seating was limited for associated members of the local branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and anyone invited to the chamber.
“Strangers shall bow to the chair (the speaker) when entering or leaving the public gallery and the chamber,” Ms O’Connor-Connolly said, and “shall not enter into parts of the House appropriated to members,” unless expressly invited by MLAs or officers.
A dress code stipulates “appropriate attire … to be observed by strangers in the House. If the Serjeant observes any inappropriate dress, he shall disallow any visitor access to the public gallery,” she said, prescribing jackets or suits in the chamber, excepting committee meetings.
The press, she said, was liable to similar codes of dress, behavior and designated seating, and prohibited from communicating with any MLA during proceedings.
All were required to sign a “declaration of Interests,” carry a Legislative Assembly-issued press pass and obey any instructions from the speaker or serjeant-at-arms.
In her Friday announcement, Ms O’Connor-Connolly at last yielded to longstanding pleas from the press, declined under her predecessor Mary Lawrence, and allowed use of “laptops, iPads or any other silent touch-typing device so long as it does not interrupt the business of the House.” Nonetheless, she forbade other electronic recording devices, photography and television cameras.
“The press are subject to the Rules of the House issued by the speaker and the LA’s traditional standing orders. Journalists failing to register in compliance with the law”, she said, “shall not be permitted to enter the press boxes to cover proceedings.”