Candidates for the 2017 general election will have personal responsibility for ensuring they are eligible for office under the Constitution.
The Elections Office says it has made recommendations to bring clarity to the issue in light of the landmark ruling from Chief Justice Anthony Smellie which followed a constitutional challenge to West Bay legislator Tara Rivers’s right to stand in the 2013 election.
However, Suzanne Bothwell, deputy supervisor of elections, said the ultimate responsibility lies with the candidates and that anyone hoping to run for office should “familiarize themselves with the Constitution.”
She said the Elections Office would give advice and make recommendations, but where there was doubt, the candidates would make the final choice and risk the prospect of a legal challenge.
“The most we can do is interpret the law as the court has stated it,” she said. “The onus is going to be on them to make sure they are qualified under the Constitution because if there are issues that arise, it is up to their peers perhaps to raise a petition in the Grand Court on that fact.
“The onus was and still is on the person putting themselves forward as a candidate to ensure they are qualified.”
Education Minister Ms. Rivers faced a Grand Court challenge in 2013 after John Gordon Hewitt, whose wife Velma Powery-Hewitt narrowly missed out on election in West Bay, disputed her eligibility to stand.
Mr. Hewitt’s petition to the Grand Court suggested that Ms. Rivers’s candidacy fell foul of the residency requirements outlined in the Constitution which disbar candidates who have lived overseas for 400 days or more in the seven years prior to the election.
Ms. Rivers’s lawyers successfully argued that she qualified for an educational exemption to the provision. They argued that the London law firm where Ms. Rivers spent three years training and working should be considered an “educational institution” and that she had never given up residency in the Cayman Islands.
Chief Justice Smellie ruled in her favor and Ms. Rivers has since filed a petition seeking to bankrupt the Hewitts for failing to comply with a court order to pay her legal costs of nearly $140,000.
Wesley Howell, supervisor of elections, said his staff would take advice from the chief justice on the implications of that judgment for candidates in 2017.
He said his office has also recommended changes to the Elections Law to help clarify the process. Ms. Bothwell said the Elections Office would consult with the attorney general of questions of eligibility of candidates.
“However, I think, moving forward, it may very well not be up to the Elections Office to say we are not going to accept your nomination,” she added. “It may very well be put through, if there is an observation to be made, it may be made and then that is the risk the candidate will run. If he or she is successful and a potential issue comes after that, things will take its course.”