Witness protection changes, magistrates bill approved

A sweeping plan to create a connected witness protection program across the Caribbean overseas territories and Bermuda has fallen apart and now Cayman must move forward with its own legislation to shield people who testify against criminals, Attorney General Sam Bulgin said Monday.

Lawmakers approved changes to the Justice Protection Law, 2008, on Monday that will separate witness protection responsibilities into two areas: A protection program to be managed by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and an investigative agency to look into cases where witnesses might need protecting, to be run by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

Both programs, now managed on a case-by-case basis by police, need the backing of current law to protect them from potential human rights claims, the attorney general said. Also, Mr. Bulgin noted that the earlier legislation was written at a time when it was envisaged that local police would be able to send witnesses to other overseas territories for safekeeping.

“That initiative stalled, if I might put it that way,” Mr. Bulgin said.

There may still be cases where sending a protected witness overseas is desired, but those agreements will be worked out on an as-needed basis, Mr. Bulgin said. In many cases, the overseas territories will not accept a witness who himself has a criminal record, he said. In others, the witness may not wish to be away from his or her Cayman family for any length of time.

The amended legislation approved on Monday allows for witness protection in new types of criminal investigations including assaults, arsons, threats to life and corruption-related probes. Previously, the legislation set a much narrower definition on which criminal investigations qualified for witness protection measures.

Mr. Bulgin said the RCIPS had maintained the program in an ad-hoc fashion “with great effectiveness,” but that the police could not be expected to do so any longer, with the arrival of human rights legislation.

“There is a need for a far more structured arrangement,” he said.

Lawmakers unanimously approved a second reading of the bill Monday following debate. A formal third reading of the bill and its signature by the governor is still required prior to it becoming law.

Judges’ pay

Cayman Islands Summary Court judges, known as magistrates, will no longer be paid or receive pensions as civil servants, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said Monday.

Lawmakers approved the Judges Emoluments and Allowances (Amendment) Bill, 2016, for the first time placing court magistrates on their own pay scales and under the judicial retirement plan.

“This is an important step in ensuring the independence of all members of our judiciary,” Mr. Manderson said.

Once the legislation receives a formal third reading and is signed by the governor, magistrates will be in the same retirement scheme as Grand Court judges.