Another constitutional commission slams FOI review

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission has voiced its concerns that certain confidential records it holds could be made public under the territory’s Freedom of Information Law.  

Representatives for the commission reported to the Legislative Assembly last week that exemptions contained in the law against the release of government records may not cover certain items in the commission’s possession.  

Those include documents relating to Human Rights Commission deliberations about complaints, and exemptions made for preserving the anonymity of those making a complaint, as well as those who are the targets of complaints, the commission claimed.  

A Legislative Assembly subcommittee review completed last year was in the process of being forwarded to Cabinet for acceptance. A redrafted Freedom of Information bill based on those recommendations has not been made public, if one does exist.  

“The HRC understands that, if accepted, amendments to the FOI Law will include making [that law] applicable to the HRC, along with [other constitutionally created commissions],” the report to the Legislative Assembly noted. “The HRC expressed its disappointment that the subcommittee responsible for making these recommendations did not afford the HRC an opportunity to provide input or discuss the potential impacts of such amendments.”  

It is a matter of hot dispute as to whether the current Freedom of Information Law, which allows anyone in the world to request public records from Cayman Islands government entities, applies to the various commissions created under the 2009 Constitution Order. The Human Rights Commission is not the first commission to raise concerns over the territory’s current open records regime.  

The Freedom of Information Unit recommended to the legislative subcommittee in its proposed changes to the FOI Law that all quasi-judicial boards, commissions and tribunals operating in the Cayman Islands be subject to open records requests but that “the adjudicative or operational records of these bodies should be exempted.” 

The legislative subcommittee that reviewed the proposal agreed with the FOI Unit on that point.  

The Commission for Standards in Public Life opined in a report made public in the Legislative Assembly last year that it should have been consulted prior to recommendations that it be included under the FOI Law.  

“It is the belief of the commission that the current exemptions [based on personal information] in the [FOI] Law do not adequately cover the needs of the commission once the Standards in Public Life Bill is passed into law,” the commission stated in its report. That bill was approved by the Legislative Assembly last week.  

“[The commission] is, by its very nature, charged with the duty of promoting openness, accountability and transparency on the part of public officers and government as a whole,” the commission’s August report to the Legislative Assembly noted, adding that it publishes the minutes of all meetings conducted, except where matters discussed are of a “privileged or sensitive” nature.