Bush decries UK wiretapping
United Kingdom-ordered police investigations led to phone taps and email snoops against former Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush, according to allegations now-Opposition Leader Bush made in Legislative Assembly last week.
Mr. Bush’s comments came during Thursday’s debate on the government’s strategic policy address, following Finance Minister Marco Archer’s presentation of the budget planning document.
“The last governor, undoubtedly, with the approval at the behest of certain persons in the [U.K.] Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the commissioner of police, unlawfully intercepted my phone calls, emails and other electronic media in an effort to remove me from the democratically elected position of premier in this country,” Mr. Bush said.
“Numerous other persons, I have no doubt, were subjected to similar interceptions …. This is not new to Cayman. As I have said, there has been an unlawful process exercised [since] the days of the Euro Bank trial,” he continued.
Mr. Bush has been charged with various offenses under the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law related to what Royal Cayman Islands Police investigators have charged was Mr. Bush’s use of a government credit card at casinos in the U.S. and the Bahamas during 2009 and 2010.
Mr. Bush has vehemently denied all such allegations and has promised to mount a vigorous defense at his criminal trial, which is now scheduled for next year.
Following his statements alleging illegality on the part of “the governor,” a comment which referred to former Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor, Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly interrupted Mr. Bush, asking him if what he stated was his opinion and if he had considered Legislative Assembly Standing Order No. 35.1.
“It is my opinion, but these are facts,” Mr. Bush replied.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly then allowed Mr. Bush to continue his remarks.
“These interceptions,” Mr. Bush continued, “which included obtaining all of my private banking information as well, known to many in this country…”
At this stage, the Speaker of the House interrupted Mr. Bush again and called for the mid-day lunch break so she could seek the advice of Attorney General Sam Bulgin in relation to the comments Mr. Bush was making.
Cayman Islands lawmakers operate in the Legislative Assembly under parliamentary privilege, which means, in part, that they cannot be held personally liable for defamatory statements made against other individuals during a parliamentary debate.
However, as Ms O’Connor-Connolly pointed out, that privilege is somewhat restricted when it comes to speaking of pending matters before the Cayman Islands courts.
According to Standing Order 35.1: “Reference shall not, to any matter in which judicial decision is pending in such a way as might be in the opinion of the chair, prejudice the interests of the party thereto.”
“I’m not up to date as to what charges are pending. I just want to err on the side of caution,” Ms O’Connor-Connolly said.
After the House resumed Thursday afternoon, the speaker made no ruling regarding whether Mr. Bush’s earlier comments would be stricken from the Hansards, which record the statements of all Legislative Assembly debates.
Following Mr. Bush’s debate, no other member of the Legislative Assembly stood up to debate the strategic policy statement, other than Premier Alden McLaughlin who wrapped up matters and stated that the opposition leader was clearly “ventilating” some issues that had been “weighing heavily on his heart.”
Contacted for comment Friday, neither the RCIPS nor current Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s office offered any comment on Mr. Bush’s remarks. The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office also offered no comment.
The subject of warrant-less wiretapping first regularized in the Cayman Islands by amendments to the Information and Communications Technology Authority Law in 2003 has become a hot topic of late.
The government recently sought to amend that law once again to allow for certain technological upgrades that would let police perform surveillance upon digital telecommunications systems. The issue is now being discussed between the Information and Communications Technology Authority and local telecom companies.
Regulations to the ICTA Law were made two years ago that gave the governor, acting in her own discretion, the power to authorize police wiretapping warrants submitted by the police commissioner. Under the current regulations, there would be no judicial review of the warrants prior to their issue by the governor. However, an oversight committee would be formed to review the applications after they are carried out.
Mr. Bush has previously railed against this practice.
“Surely, if the people’s best interests were being considered, approvals [of wiretapping warrants] would be required through the courts; it’s a simple fact,” the opposition leader said.
Any information obtained by police via the telecommunications snooping warrants would not be admissible in a court of law.
“It’s my view that the power to issue warrants should be a judicial power only,” Mr. Bush said. “The relationship which has been established by the new constitution, that the governor is responsible for the police and the commissioner of police answers to the governor and, in fact, works for the governor, creates a relationship that is not arm’s length.”
Premier McLaughlin has previously said that he does not care for the “cozy committee of two” established by the ICTA Regulations for the approval of wiretapping and email snooping warrants, referring to the governor and the police commissioner. However, Mr. McLaughlin has also said he does not wish to fight a “war” with the U.K. over the issue, a war which he said Cayman would lose.
The U.K. foreign office has long maintained the operational capability to wiretap phones. It was not until 2003 that a formalized process was set up by which the Cayman Islands governor could issue warrants to approve such activities by police.
Mr. McLaughlin was the legislator at the time who made a motion to change the law so that warrants would be issued by a judge rather than by the governor.
“In the end, the U.K. had their way,” he said.