Lawmakers try again with controversial bills

A pair of controversial bills governing public integrity standards and employment and operating practices for Cayman Islands lawyers are on the Legislative Assembly agenda for its next regularly scheduled meeting in late April.

As Premier Alden McLaughlin promised, the revamped Standards in Public Life Bill – which was passed in 2014 but never implemented – will come before assembly members for a vote. The bill seeks stricter disclosure of interest requirements for legislators and senior public servants, as well as some requirements for appointed members of public boards.

Another often attempted legislative change – amendments to the territory’s Legal Practitioners’ Law – is also expected to come up during the next meeting.

Public standards

The specifics of the amended Standards in Public Life Law are unknown, but Premier McLaughlin has said a draft will be made public at least 21 days prior to its being heard during the April 25 meeting. The law was approved in January 2014 but was shelved in June of that year amid concerns over the reporting requirements, particularly those for appointed members of public sector agency boards.

Cayman’s current Register of Interests Law, which will be replaced if the Standards in Public Life Bill takes effect, requires disclosures of any pecuniary interest or material benefit that might “reasonably be thought by others to influence [a person’s] actions …” and requires the following people to register: elected members of the Legislative Assembly; the Speaker of the House; the chief secretary (a position that no longer exists); the attorney general; the financial secretary; the registrar of interests (in this case the Legislative Assembly clerk); nominated political candidates; and “any person having received permission to attend a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, or a meeting of any of its committees, for the purpose of reporting in any newspaper of periodical, or in any radio or television broadcast, the meeting or any matter related to the meeting.”

The earlier Standards in Public Life Law set a much different standard for disclosure requirements and – while it leaves journalists off the list of required disclosers – adds a significant number of public sector employees or board members who must file disclosures.

Therein lies the problem, the premier said.

“We have had significant push-back from many people who are serving on commissions or boards,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “There is the threat, quite frankly, of mass resignations [from the government boards] if the law comes into force in its present form.”

There has also been some confusion in the Cayman Islands civil service regarding which employees need to report their interests under the current law and to whom. Legal issues regarding the definition of a “connected person” who may be related to the senior civil servant or board member also led to uncertainty, the premier said.

Legal practice

For the better part of the last decade, lawmakers have debated changes to the laws governing the practice of law in the Cayman Islands, but have not managed to put forth a bill that reaches a suitable compromise among competing interests.

This area has been a particular focus for George Town MLA Winston Connolly during his first term in office. Mr. Connolly has said he would back changes to the law only if it contains “proper systems” to ensure Caymanians take up “meaningful roles” in the top tier of local law firms.

“Until I see [that], and until commitments are made by firms to do so, I do know that I cannot fully support any bill without these basic commitments and a plan to achieve full Caymanian participation in law firms,” Mr. Connolly said.

A previous draft of the bill, introduced in 2012 by the former United Democratic Party government, sought sweeping changes to the current legislation. The regulations under that previous proposal sought to implement a registration fee for law firms that use non-Caymanian attorneys who perform some work for their Cayman Islands firms while residing overseas.

Former Premier and now-Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush defined the issue this way: “Some Caymanian attorneys have … expressed concerns about the ability of some law firms to operate satellite offices abroad. [They] are worried that one day, Cayman legal services could potentially be solely provided from other countries.”

Most international law firms have teams practicing Cayman law from overseas offices, for example, by providing for the use of Cayman vehicles such as funds or companies by foreign clients. Often this work will generate business that is going to be serviced from Cayman, in addition to the establishment work that is done in Cayman. For example, Cayman Islands companies are popular vehicles for listings on the stock exchanges in Hong Kong and Taiwan.