Bill gives Cabinet power over Justices of the Peace

Elected members of the Cayman Islands Cabinet would be granted heretofore unseen powers over the appointment, removal and training of justices of the peace, if changes to local legislation are approved in the Legislative Assembly.  

Proposed amendments to the Summary Jurisdiction Law made public this week provide for the suspension of a JP who is of unsound body or mind, a JP who has been deemed to have “misbehaved” in the function of their office, or who has contravened a recently-adopted code of conduct set for JPs.  

The bill also gives Cabinet the regulatory power to set the procedure for nomination of JPs, what is required for their training, the arrangements of any tribunal called to hear complaints made against JPs and the ability to assess “the fitness of a justice of the Peace to serve” after they reach 70 years of age.  

Currently, Cayman’s governor retains the same power with regard to local Grand Court judges after they reach age 65. 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 in 2013 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, following a case in which a search warrant signed by a JP was thrown out of court. In that case, a local woman, Sandra Catron, successfully challenged a 2012 police search of her vehicle and home.  

The changes to the law being proposed now require a vote of the Legislative Assembly. However, future regulatory changes could be decided in Cabinet meetings, which are held behind closed doors.  

It is understood the governor will still be responsible for JP appointments, acting within regulations determined by elected officials.  

According to the new code of conduct, which was established for Cayman Islands JPs in late 2013, JPs must not use their title to advance or appear to advance their own business, commercial or personal interests and they 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 case involving 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. Grand Court Judge 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.