McLaughlin v. Bush: The People's House or the courthouse?

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.



  1. Why is this issue constantly dredged up as the best you can manage to discuss in your editorials. It is becoming very boring, and there are subtle indications that you may favor one of the combatants. We all know what is going on – why don’t we just wait until the various processes are resolved. Most of your commentary is at best, speculation. As to the Global Gravity of the outcome – as a news item, it is hardly likely to make better than page 3 of any internationally recognized newspapers.

  2. Just would like to share this story and hopefully it can make someone laugh for the day.
    WHOOSE’BUSINESS: One day a man wearing a Red necktie with a PPM pin walked into his regular down town bar. Takes his usual seat and orders a 345.
    Today on the wall above the bar counter was a picture of the Premier. The man calls to the bartender; Hey bartender, ye need take da picture down.
    The bartender who was a die-hard UDP, offended, replied. Cha man, wha ye think it is, you PPM what’s it not dare te tell me how to run mi business.
    So Joe replied "I am the customer, so I am always right and the picture offends me.
    The bartender replied, How would you like it if I came to your business and told you what to do? Joe replied in that instance then you would be the customer and would be right. Ok then let’s switch places replied the bartender.
    So they did. The bartender takes the stool and the customer takes behind the bar. He says ok now I want you to remove the PPM picture from the wall. The bartender replied "Sorry we don’t serve UDP in here.

  3. It is shocking (or maybe not), that the Compass Editorial Board is not calling for Bush to release his evidence publicly.

  4. This whole thing is a perfect example of how people have no concern for whether or not the law is followed as long as it gets them what they want. When Alden made accusations against Bush while he was premier and there were plenty of them everyone cried holy hell and asked for investigations and inquiries to prove his guilt yet now when Alden is the target of certain accusations these same people are crying foul. This sounds like a definite double standard. Which means it seem like no one cares if the law is broken or rights infringed on when it’s convenient for them..