Reporting on Cayman's courts: A plea for clarity

We in the Cayman Islands often refer to ourselves as a Christian nation. But it is faith of a different sort — purely secular — that distinguishes us from our Caribbean brethren and underpins our country’s social and economic success.

We refer to the faith in our judiciary. In order for Cayman to function as a first-world society — especially as an offshore financial center — expectations of swift, fair and reasoned justice must prevail. The ultimate assurance of trust in Cayman’s court system (particularly for international corporate entities) is the right of appeal to the U.K. Privy Council, a judicial safety net that is arguably the greatest gift our Mother Country ever bestowed upon her colonial ward.

Faith in our judiciary is vitally important, but that doesn’t mean it should be blind faith.

For those and other reasons, we were pleased to learn of the arrival of special Criminal Justice Adviser Claire Wetton from the U.K. For the next three months, Ms. Wetton will advise on ways to help improve the efficiency of Cayman’s overcrowded Summary Courts — a legal logjam in dire need of sundering.

We only wish that Ms. Wetton were operating under a broader mandate.

Ms. Wetton’s position, you see, may enable her to do what we at the Compass cannot do: Examine documents and ask cogent questions on the efficiency and effectiveness of our entire judicial process — from the point of arrest to the point of final adjudication.

For our part at the Compass, we’re not sure what we can, and cannot, report on (or comment on) without stepping over shifting boundaries demarcated by difficult-to-define concepts such as “sub judice” and “scandalizing the judiciary.”

The Compass spends an inordinate amount of money (sometimes thousands of dollars per month) on legal advice simply to determine what we can print without running afoul of these vague concepts.

If we had any influence on Ms. Wetton’s agenda in Cayman, we would advocate for her to explore what precisely Cayman’s media can report on the courts, what the media cannot report and how we can tell the difference.

The best person to enlighten us on such issues, of course, is not Ms. Wetton but Chief Justice Anthony Smellie. We believe that our Chief Justice believes as we do — that is in an open, free and, importantly, responsible press.

However, in order to act responsibly — and consistently — in our coverage of the courts, we need guidance on what is permissible under Cayman law and its interpretation by the courts. Currently we are largely guessing, and consulting attorneys to increase the odds that we’re guessing correctly.

In January 2014, we wrote on this page: “In particular, we seek clarity on the rules, and then consistency of their application; in other words, different media (print, radio, TV or web) should have a single uniform and explicit set of standards.”

Surely, judges who strive for precision of language in their rulings can appreciate our need for precision in these important matters. We can’t abide by the rules if we don’t know what they are or, worse, if they’re being applied subjectively or inconsistently.

If the judiciary were willing to put on an educational seminar for the media on these matters, the Compass would be pleased to host it.

 

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  1. The first thing that needs attention is the long delays to go to trial. Particularly in criminal matters.

    Pressure on the legal system could be eased by creating a separate Traffic Court to deal with minor traffic offenses.

    There should be no reason for someone to wait for 5 years before their case is heard.

    And it is in the public interest to demand swift justice too. Otherwise those criminals are out on bail committing more crimes.

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