Despite recent signs of atrophy in the Cayman Islands open records regime, the British Overseas Territory is still ranked as having one of the world’s best Freedom of Information Laws.
A report released in March by the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada ranked Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law 13th best out of 102 countries that currently have, or which are in the process of passing right to information, or RTI, legislation.
In the Caribbean region, only the northeastern Caribbean island of Antigua beat Cayman in the center’s scoring system that worked out the strength of various open records laws around the globe. The ranking was based only on legislation or proposed legislation, not on the operation of the laws in practice.
“We welcome the fact that the Cayman Islands has such a strong RTI law,” said the center’s executive director, Toby Mendel.
Other Caribbean countries did not fare so well. The Bahamas, which still has only a proposed Freedom of Information Bill, was ranked 48th by the center. The Dominican Republic was rated 93rd.
Cayman, which earned 112 of a total of 150 points on the center’s rating system, scored higher than the United Kingdom [99 points], the U.S. [89 points] and Canada [79 points] when comparing national-level right to information laws. Neighboring Jamaica, which passed its own FOI Law in 2004, scored 88 points on the rating system.
Despite its high rating, Cayman’s open records law still has some improvements to make regarding government transparency and access to public records, Mr. Mendel said.
“[Both the Cayman and Bahamas laws] share some critical deficiencies,” he said. “[There are] exceptions [to the release of information] which are illegitimate in nature [or] overbroad. Both laws also fail to apply a public interest override to all exceptions and exclude many public bodies from [the laws’] ambit altogether.”
The Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law, which took effect in January 2009, has never been revised or updated, even though a Legislative Assembly committee did review the law and make recommendations for changes in 2013.
Moreover, concerns have been expressed of late from certain quarters that Cayman’s open records regime is being “undermined” by a lack of support from civil service managers and elected lawmakers.
Former Cayman Islands Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert told the Cayman Compass last week that she has serious concerns about the ongoing independence of that office, as well as with government plans to merge the office with a number of unrelated functions.
“I don’t see it being workable, I don’t see it effecting any savings,” Mrs. Dilbert said. “You’re already undermining the office just by talking about it.”
The Centre for Law and Democracy noted some difficulties with the Cayman Islands FOI Law in the area of the information commissioner’s independence. It noted that the commissioner reports to the Legislative Assembly, but that there is “no mention of budget” with regard to how the office’s finances are maintained.
In addition, the review notes there is “no security of tenure” for the information commissioner, who can be appointed for up to a five-year contract term.