Top officials ‘disregard’ human rights requests

The deputy governor, the police commissioner and the attorney general are among the Cayman Islands civil servants criticized for not responding to various requests for information from the Human Rights Commission over the past year.

According to the commission’s 2013 annual report, Chairman Richard Coles expressed his disappointment that there had been an “unfortunate trend” of unresponsiveness among various public entities toward the HRC.

“It is seemingly the case that various public authorities are either unaware of this duty or blatantly disregard it,” Mr. Coles wrote in his opening statement attached to the report.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who runs the Cayman Islands civil service with delegated powers from the governor, apologized to the Legislative Assembly last week over the issue and noted publicly that he was one of the guilty parties in the non-response.

“I do accept we did not respond in a timely manner,” Mr. Manderson said. “We have done everything in the civil service to make sure that complaint is not voiced again.”

The HRC report highlighted several areas where its enquiries had been ignored on serious issues in recent months.

Incompatible laws

The Legislative Assembly recently amended the Cayman Islands Police Law to reduce to 48 hours the initial period of time criminal suspects can be held without charge.

The change was made following a ruling by Grand Court Justice Alex Henderson that indicated Cayman’s Police Law was out of compliance with the constitution. The legislative amendments were made last week.

The Human Rights Commission wrote to the attorney general in May 2013 asking about any proposed remedies to the Police Law in light of the judge’s decision.

The commission never received any “formal feedback” on the matter, although amended legislation was presented to the House in January 2014.

Search warrants

Another court case that revealed a police search warrant against a local woman had been issued unlawfully in July 2012 prompted the HRC to ask both Police Commissioner David Baines and the local Justices of the Peace Association for further information about what had occurred.

Mr. Henderson, who also reviewed this case, said 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 Henderson 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.

“It sounds to me like [the police officer] dropped in, chatted with [the justice of the peace] a few minutes and got him to sign the warrant,” Mr. Justice Henderson said during a judicial review hearing on the case. The hearing also revealed that the JP involved, a local tire shop owner, simply did not understand the nature of the offense Ms Catron was accused of committing.

The HRC received no formal response from the Justices of the Peace Association or Mr. Baines regarding its queries, although some legal changes to the JPs code of conduct were made after the situation arose.

Cuban migrants

During the ongoing review of Cayman’s refugee policy regarding Cuban migrants, Mr. Manderson had asked that the Human Rights Commission “audit” the government’s current processes.

The HRC “followed up numerous times” to clarify the deputy governor’s request and said it had received no response to date.

“Therefore, the HRC has been unable to assist,” the report noted.

The Cuba migrant policy is still under review and government officials are currently redrafting an agreement with Cuba on the treatment of individuals who land illegally on Cayman’s shores.

Deportation issues

The Human Rights Commission has investigated a number of cases where deportation has resulted following the incarceration of foreign nationals in the Cayman Islands for various offenses.

In every instance, the prisoner has claimed some connection to Cayman, most often that he had fathered children in the islands.

The HRC has noted that deportation cases can give rise to human rights concerns if they are not handled properly and that it had asked to review the government’s deportation policy.

Senior civil servants within the Ministry of Home Affairs failed to respond to any of the questions. The deputy governor was then contacted in attempts to prompt a response, but nothing had been received by the commission upon the issuance of its annual report.