Code of conduct created for JPs

Changes result from ‘unlawful search’

A new code of conduct has been created for Cayman Islands justices of the peace, in the wake of a 2012 unlawful police search of a woman’s home and vehicle.  

According to a government press release, the code was created by Cabinet members in consultation with the Justice of the Peace Association. Government officials declined to release a full copy of the code, despite numerous requests from the Caymanian Compass.  

Justices of the Peace, who are appointed by the Cayman Islands governor, are used as signatories to a number of official documents, including search and arrest warrants, land registrations, marriage certificates and vehicle license transfers, among many others.  

The Progressives-led government said earlier this year 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 requires a vote of the Legislative Assembly. However, future regulatory changes could be decided in Cabinet meetings, which are currently held behind closed doors.  

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, Sandra Catron, successfully challenged a 2012 police search of her vehicle and home.  

According to the new code of conduct: 

JPs must not use their title to advance or appear to advance their own business, commercial or personal interests. 

JPs must keep a written record of all signatures witnessed, land transfers witnessed and warrants issued and all occasions when JP services are refused, giving reasons on the prescribed form.  

The regulations also provide for a procedure for making a complaint about the conduct of a justice of the peace. In addition, the regulations also make a provision for JPs who retire and have completed 10 years’ service to apply to retain the designation of JP (Retired). 

The regulations specify that all JPs will undertake a more updated extensive training program within the coming year. The regulations also specify that update training will be provided every three years. 

The warrant against Ms Catron’s home and vehicle in July 2012 involved 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.  

Cayman 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.”