In one corner, wearing green, former Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush, who has filed a private members’ motion in the Legislative Assembly alleging a “conspiracy” between local and U.K. officials. In the red trunks, current Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin, who has responded to Mr. Bush’s public pronouncements with a lawsuit alleging slander and libel.
Unlike the recent boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the political pugilism between Mr. Bush and Mr. McLaughlin promises to live up to its top billing. In this particular bout, there is much more at stake than mere money.
The venue for this imminent conflict is yet to be determined. Mr. Bush, it appears, would prefer to air his grievances within the wide expanses of the Legislative Assembly, while Mr. McLaughlin’s druthers seem to lie within the tighter confines of the courtroom, under the vigilance of a learned judge.
Mr. Bush, for one, has argued publicly that Mr. McLaughlin’s defamation lawsuit is a ploy to invoke “sub judice” restrictions, and therefore limit (or even abort) parliamentary discussions and media coverage of Mr. Bush’s motion.
We are not privy to the substance of conversations between Mr. McLaughlin and his legal counsel, but if that is indeed his working strategy, we feel obliged to observe that it might not work. There are two reasons for that: first, the defamation proceedings would occur in civil court, not criminal court, and would be decided by a judge, not a jury; second, the “parliamentary privilege” that lawmakers enjoy in the Legislative Assembly may shield them from any sub judice considerations even if they do arise.
Several years ago, Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie explained, “The sub judice rule … is a principle that says that proceedings that are current before the court should not be discussed in the media if, and here’s the thing, by so doing, the proper administration of justice could be impaired.
“Now typically, that would relate to jury trials because jurors stand to be influenced by what is in the press.
“I know of no case yet where that sub judice rule has been enforced against any element of the media because of a concern that a judge, a trained judge, may have been influenced by what the media printed to the detriment of the proper administration of justice.” (Mr. Smellie’s comments were published in a story that appeared in the January 2011 edition of Cayman Financial Review.)
In case of collision between the sub judice rule and parliamentary privilege, it is unclear which will prevail under Cayman law. However, the legal precedent in the U.K. is that a lawmaker’s right to speak freely in parliament trumps even a direct order from a court, even in criminal cases tried by juries.
Suppose, however, that for whatever reason, Mr. Bush’s motion never reaches the House floor. There will be a myriad of other opportunities for him to make public the supposedly damning information he claims he possesses. If not in the Legislative Assembly, then in a courtroom. If not in a courtroom, then there’s always “Plan W” — as in, “Windshield,” as in, that’s where a reporter or other concerned citizen may end up finding said documents.
To quote the Bard, “at the length, truth will out.”
To quote Mr. Bush, “Alden’s got a surprise coming.”