EDITORIAL – Privy Council speaks; Cayman better listen

“Mr. Oliveira’s application for [citizenship] should have been concluded within 12 months from being made. Mr. Oliveira’s claim should be remitted to the trial court in Antigua for it to assess the damages.”
— U.K. Privy Council, Aug. 2 judgment regarding Antigua and Barbuda citizenship application

The Privy Council has spoken. The Cayman Islands should pay careful heed.

The Privy Council, the court of final appeal for Cayman, said: “We … conclude that a period of one year, from application to registration … is in general the outside limit of a reasonable time and that delay beyond that time … is likely to be unlawful ….”

In other words, if government takes more than a year to conclude an application for citizenship, then the government has taken too long and is liable for damages.

The relevance to Cayman is obvious: In the opinion of our jurisdiction’s highest court, one year is the maximum time for the government to consider and decide on an immigration application. In Cayman, there are more than 750 outstanding applications for permanent residence, the majority of which were filed well over a year ago — and many of which date back nearly three years, when the revised Immigration Law took effect.

We emphasize that the Antigua case considered by the Privy Council isn’t strictly an “apples to apples” comparison with Cayman’s situation, but it’s fruit from the same orchard.

For years, the Progressives government has been playing with dynamite regarding hundreds of PR applications. If the Privy Council’s “one-year rule” can be applied to Cayman, then the collateral damage, both reputationally and financially to these islands, could be huge.

Consider the above in the context of attorney David Ritch’s review of Cayman’s immigration system, which government commissioned and, upon receipt, buried deeper than Blackbeard’s treasure. (The Compass is currently trying to unearth the report through the Freedom of Information process.)

Despite Cayman’s being a British Overseas Territory, we have heard little from our governor or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this matter. We understand, of course, that their first impulse might be to dismiss the matter on the basis that immigration is a “local concern,” but, of course, in this instance where the abuse of human rights is likely an issue, it is far more. Certainly the Privy Council’s ruling should get the attention not just of our premier, but of our governor as well.

Remember that the current PR limbo is really Act Two in our immigration drama. Act One, of course, occurred in 2003 when then-Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush was forced to grant Caymanian Status to thousands of expatriates en masse.

(As Mr. Bush has related, at the time a former Grand Court justice was spearheading a legal initiative to give all of Cayman’s long-term expatriate residents — possibly as many as 17,000 of them — Caymanian Status if they took their cases to court.)

Did our officials learn anything from that fiasco? No. Their response was to install another barrier — the so-called “rollover” policy — which was purposefully designed to deprive expatriate residents of the opportunity to gain full civic and immigration rights.

The intent of that policy — namely to prevent long-term residents from ever achieving full rights of citizenship, including franchise — became clear when the proviso was added that they could return to the island after a one-year absence, effectively “resetting the residence clock” to zero. The system was designed, purposely (if not maliciously) to ensure that foreign residents never reached the “finish line.”

Regarding the delay in addressing PR applications, we would only point out that damages that could be sought through the courts most likely could not be rectified by the belated granting of PR.

In fact, in the Antigua case (where the plaintiff had eventually been granted citizenship), the Privy Council sent the case back to the trial court to assess damages owed to the plaintiff.

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