AG lauds Cayman's human rights progress

Since the advent of the Cayman Islands’ first Bill of Rights as part of the 2009 Constitution, only one case has been raised where local laws were deemed incompatible with human rights legislation, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said Wednesday.

In a rare public address at a conference hosted by the University of the West Indies to mark 800 years since the drafting of the Magna Carta in Britain, Mr. Bulgin said Cayman had done well in the initial period since the Bill of Rights took effect on Nov. 6, 2012, in bringing local laws into line.

“Indeed, even in the one case where a declaration of incompatibility [with local laws] occurred … it was quickly rectified by the Legislative Assembly,” Mr. Bulgin told an audience of about 50 people gathered at the University College of the Cayman Islands Wednesday morning.

That legislation, which referred to the period of time Cayman Islands police can hold criminal suspects in detention without taking them to court, was amended last year.

The amendments to the Police Law (2010 Revision) lowered to 48 hours the initial time police can hold individuals arrested “on suspicion” of a crime. The hold can be extended to 72 hours if a senior police officer approves and the suspect is brought before a magistrate who also allows the additional detainment without criminal charges being filed.

The amendments were approved unanimously after Grand Court Judge Alexander Henderson pointed out in a 2013 ruling that the old Police Law did not meet human rights requirements.

The change led to some charges of “incompetence” by opposition lawmakers against the attorney general’s chambers, which Premier Alden McLaughlin dismissed.

“From time to time, there are going to be these sorts of challenges made in the court,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I don’t think it is fair to blame the attorney general for not having made legislation compliant with the constitution.

“Things are not as they once were. Cayman, as a first-world country, has got to have a system for the administration of justice which accords with international standards. That includes how we manage the arrest and detention of prisoners.”

Future troubles?

Just because no other local laws have been declared incompatible with human rights legislation in Cayman or in the United Kingdom does not mean the territory should not remain vigilant about problem areas that might occur in the future, Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith said during a February interview.

For instance, Mr. Austin-Smith noted that banned publications would be one area involving speech, expression and religion that could lead Cayman into legal trouble. All of those areas are now protected under the Cayman Islands Bill of Rights.

“You do have to be careful not to expand [human rights] into everything, but one of the things that I think Cayman needs to look at … is prohibited publications,” Mr. Austin-Smith said. “It’s censorship.”

Banned books in the Cayman Islands include many texts on the various magical arts, often called “Obeah” in the Caribbean.

Another current issue involves long-standing laws in the Cayman Islands that allow for criminal prosecution and jail terms for those who publish, broadcast or publicly state untrue and damaging claims about another person should also be taken off the books, the Human Rights Commission chairman added.

“My personal view is that criminalizing statements is a sledgehammer to crack a nut,“ he said. “If you’ve got the protection of the civil law, criminal libel is perhaps something that we need to move on from and probably don’t need anymore.”

Mr. Austin-Smith said it was not an issue the Human Rights Commission had considered, but that it could be addressed later in the context of protections of freedom of expression under the Cayman Islands Constitution Order. The Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission is also looking into the territory’s defamation laws.

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