Independents: Cabinet should stay out of courts

Legislative row over JP rules

A bill that will give Cabinet members previously unseen powers to regulate the appointment, training and removal of justices of the peace in the Cayman Islands was approved Thursday on a party-line vote in the Legislative Assembly.  

All members of the Progressives-led administration who were present voted in favor of amendments to the Summary Jurisdiction Law, while opposition party members and independent opposition MLAs voted against the changes.  

Proposed amendments 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, requirements for their training, the arrangements for 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.  

Premier Alden McLaughlin, in pressing the need for the legislative changes proposed, noted that other past mistakes by justices of the peace had cost Cayman huge amounts of money.  

“The issuance of a warrant by a permanent secretary in the government to allow the police to go and search and ultimately arrest a sitting judge of the Grand Court cost this country $1.275 million,” Mr. McLaughlin said, referring to the arrest of Justice Alexander Henderson during the ill-fated Operation Tempura investigation. “We’ve had the more recent case by Ms. Sandra Catron. I don’t know if that has, or if it will end up costing the government any cash in terms of compensation, but it has certainly caused major embarrassment.”  

The changes to the law required 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.  

Independent MLAs, North Side’s Ezzard Miller and East End’s Arden McLean, spoke out against the amendments. Mr. Miller said he had considered resigning his own Justice of the Peace appointment over the legislative changes.  

“What we are molding and morphing a justice of the peace into today is not what Ezzard signed up to be,” Mr. Miller said.  

Mr. Miller said if government simply wanted to amend the Police Law to prevent justices of the peace from signing search warrants, he would support it.  

“This day and age, I don’t think justices of the peace should be signing search warrants and such,” he said.  

Mr. McLean said training requirements in the legislation were “disrespectful” to some of the veteran lawyers and lawmakers on the JPs list. He said similar legislation for notaries public passed last year exempted certain professions, including lawyers and accountants, from additional training requirements.  

“[JP training] needs to stay with the chief justice,” Mr. McLean said. “Let him decide how he uses his justice of the peace. 

“We have at least eight magistrates somewhere throughout this country. The magistrates can be called up to sign police warrants. They are the most suited to do that.”  

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