Cayman legalizes plans for witness protection

Law initially passed eight years ago

Cayman Islands witness protection methods that have previously been described as “ad hoc” in some cases and raising potential human rights concerns in others, will take effect in specific local legislation this month.

The Justice Protection Law (2008) will commence on Aug. 31, about eight years after it was first approved by the Legislative Assembly and assented to by then-Governor Stuart Jack.

The initial 2008 law, although it was approved, had to be delayed and eventually scrapped because it required the creation of an international witness protection plan, including all the remaining Caribbean British Overseas Territories and Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. That idea failed for lack of funding and support, according to Attorney General Samuel Bulgin.

Legislators approved a revised law earlier this year that created a more Cayman-centric protection plan, defining specific agencies and methods used to shield people who testify against criminals.

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission raised concerns surrounding Cayman’s witness protection rules, or lack thereof, more than two years ago in a 2014 report to the Legislative Assembly.

“The Human Rights Commission brought to the attention of [former] Governor [Duncan] Taylor the grave concern that whilst the [witness protection] program is operational, it has no statutory basis,” the Human Right Commission report noted. “The HRC has again addressed these concerns in writing to Governor [Helen] Kilpatrick.”

The HRC report to the Legislative Assembly stated that the appropriate witness protection legislation was needed to “create a legal framework that increases protection, assistance and support services for victims and other witnesses of criminal and civil matters in the Cayman Islands.”

Although it was not pointed out in the Human Rights Commission evaluation, the most well-known local case involving witness protection concerns was flagged by U.K. prison inspectors who visited the territory in 2012-2013. The U.K. study reported some horrifying revelations regarding the holding facilities used before arrested individuals enter the court system. One of the issues with the holding cells identified problems with a protected witness.

“At the time of the inspection, there was a protected witness being held [in a separate area to the main George Town police station custody cells], who had been in isolation for over a month,” the U.K. report read. “The door to his cell was left open so that he could also use the corridor, but his cell and corridor were dark with no natural light.

“He had no way of telling what time of day it was, had not been outside for several weeks and was clearly depressed.”

The man, Marlon Dillon, was held in those conditions for more than two years. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has since closed the jail facilities at the George Town Police Station, moving the holding cells to a new modular facility in the Fairbanks area of George Town. Former Police Commissioner David Baines remarked earlier this year that the government was lucky not to be sued for “constructive torture” over the continued use of the police station cells.

The changes in the rewritten Justice Protection Law 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.

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 also 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.

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  1. Witness protection systems in countries like the USA can involve moving a witness to a different state and given a different identity.
    This might be fairly safe but is itself a major deterrent to a non-criminal witness who has to suffer massive upheaval in their life in order to convict a stranger.

    It would seem to be difficult to implement in a small country like ours, where a vengeful criminal’s gang have a maximum of 45 minutes by car from one end of Grand Cayman to the other.

    Mexico though has an interesting system whereby the witness is never identified, they give their evidence from inside a box from which they can see out but they cannot be identified. They can of course still be cross-examined.

    This has proven successful against Mexican drug lords who are known to hang witnesses from bridges as a “lesson” to others.

    Would something like this work here?