On April 14, ex-Premier McKeeva Bush filed a private members’ motion alleging the existence of a U.K.-Cayman Islands conspiracy against him. Current Premier Alden McLaughlin responded to Mr. Bush’s comments on the issue by suing Mr. Bush for defamation.
While Mr. Bush’s action and Mr. McLaughlin’s reaction are related, they are not equal. Though both are political in nature, one measure is “public,” and the other is “personal.”
In his parliamentary motion, Mr. Bush alleged that a group of officials from the U.K. and Cayman conspired together to “topple” his United Democratic Party government — which fell apart in late 2012 following the arrest of Mr. Bush on various corruption-related charges.
The official allegations against Mr. Bush were eventually winnowed down to alleged misuse of his government-issued credit card; in fall 2014, a jury acquitted Mr. Bush on all counts.
Mr. Bush’s motion asks for an independent review of “the involvement of the [U.K.] Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Office of the Governor, Commissioner of Police and the then-Leader of the Opposition [referring to Mr. McLaughlin] in the conspiracy to remove the then-constitutionally elected premier [referring to Mr. Bush].”
Mr. Bush says he has documentary proof to back up his allegations. The sheer magnitude and gravity of his claims — put forth in a formal parliamentary motion seeking an impartial inquiry into the acts of officials — require that they be treated with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, we can think of fewer scenarios that would demand greater attention and swiftness on the part of our Legislative Assembly. The truth, or falsity, of Mr. Bush’s allegations strike at the very heart of Cayman’s status as a representative democracy and territorial dependent of the United Kingdom.
Where Mr. Bush may have misstepped is by holding a press conference announcing the filing of the motion. Statements he has made beyond the safe confines of the House floor have become the basis for Mr. McLaughlin’s defamation case, filed in civil court.
(At this point, let us clarify, and qualify, an assertion we made last week. We said that if Mr. McLaughlin’s strategic intent in filing the lawsuit is to invoke “sub judice” considerations that may constrain what information Mr. Bush can safely reveal in the House, that strategy might not work. We said that civil trials are conducted by judges, not juries, and that judges are not thought to be influenced by what is or isn’t reported about the trial in the media. Since then, we have been further educated by a QC familiar with such matters that a civil trial of a libel case is a possible exception to the “no juries” rule of thumb … though there is scant legal precedent in Cayman, either way, in recent years. In light of this, we must admit that any “sub judice” strategy, if it exists, may have a greater chance of success than we first acknowledged.)
Mr. Bush’s motion is very different from Mr. McLaughlin’s lawsuit.
The motion, filed in parliament, accuses a group of overseas and local officials of tampering with the workings of Cayman’s democratic system, and requests an independent investigation into the facts. The lawsuit, filed in court, accuses a rival politician of, in essence, “lying,” and requests the awarding of damages and the prevention of similar statements being made in the future.
Both the motion and the lawsuit, if entertained, would cover much of the same material. Either in the Legislative Assembly or in the court, Mr. Bush and McLaughlin will have ample opportunity to prove their own contentions and to disprove their opponent’s.
Mr. Bush’s motion clearly should be pursued because of the global gravity of the allegations and the local public interest.
Mr. McLaughlin’s lawsuit is more narrowly defined. Our sitting premier is seeking redress for reputational damage he claims he has suffered based on defamatory utterances made by his long-time political rival.
What is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, is that unless some accommodation can be reached between our country’s two top leaders, the Cayman Islands will suffer its own reputational damage — this time in headlines and media coverage throughout the world.