It is an instance in which Cayman is at risk of having a policy imposed upon us from far beyond our borders.
In fact, life sentencing is only one of a myriad of areas where Cayman is either being forced to relinquish, or has voluntarily ceded, local control over policies in favor of some international standard or obligation.
Cayman appears to be increasingly caught up in the troubling trends of globalization and European centralization. More and more, our country’s decisions are being influenced, or made, by external bodies such as the United Kingdom, United States, European Union, United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and other sovereign or regulatory bodies.
The entanglements manifest themselves in matters as diverse as wiretapping, government budgeting, environmental policy, financial regulations, human rights and criminal justice.
In cases such as life sentencing, Cayman finds itself embroiled in situations not of our own making — and possibly in conflict with our own social norms. Other times, Cayman’s government voluntarily obligates the country to meet new commitments, such as tax information exchange agreements.
Every foreign entanglement or commitment should be met with the highest degree of skepticism by local legislators. While our Governor, as our in situ representative of the U.K., is charged with overseeing our external affairs, we must remain vigilant and, at times, even oppositional when the interests of the U.K. do not coincide with our own.
On the matter of life sentencing, our lawmakers can’t plead ignorance as an excuse. Cayman abolished the death penalty for murder in 1991 and replaced it with a blanket “whole-life sentence.”
Since 2006, Cayman’s official human rights body has warned that the country’s mandatory life sentences may run afoul of U.K. law and international standards. Nevertheless, Cayman’s successive governments have not acted.
Now time appears to be running out for our country to determine our own guidelines for punishing the most serious of crimes.
There are currently 19 inmates serving life sentences in Cayman. One of them, 22-year-old Tareek Ricketts, who was convicted in July of murdering Jackson Rainford, has filed a petition with the Grand Court arguing that his life sentence amounts to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and violates the Cayman Islands Bill of Rights.
The European Court appears sympathetic with the arguments of Ricketts’s lawyers. The final determination on the Ricketts appeal could undermine Cayman’s “life without parole” regime.
Cayman’s Human Rights Commission noted our precarious position in a recent report: “The HRC is concerned that a lack of willingness by the Legislature to grapple with this serious and sensitive issue will lead to the Cayman Islands being forced to adopt a system from another jurisdiction; forgoing the opportunity to tailor a system to the unique circumstances of our jurisdiction.”
In other words, if we don’t make a change to our sentencing guidelines, someone else may well come in and change them for us. Our lawmakers should not allow this important responsibility to slip from local control because of lack of attention or, worse, dereliction of duty.