Government ordered to hand over ‘Ritch Report’ to FOI office

Cayman Islands Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose has been ordered to turn over an immigration consultant’s report to the information commissioner’s office, after the government initially denied the information commissioner access to the report.

“The Cabinet Secretary will have 45 days in which to respond or seek a judicial review of the information commissioner’s office order.”

The consultant’s report, which was completed at the behest of Premier Alden McLaughlin by law firm Ritch & Conolly, is the subject of an open records request filed by the Cayman Compass. The government initially denied the request; it is now being appealed to the information commissioner.

According to an email the Cayman Compass received from the information commissioner’s office this week: “[The office] requested the responsive records from the premier’s office a few weeks ago.

The premier’s office has denied the information commissioner’s office access to the Ritch & Conolly report.

“We were provided with the letter of engagement [for the Ritch & Conolly law firm] which was reviewed by the Cabinet Secretary and formed the basis for his decision to exempt the report.”

The information commissioner’s office noted that it had indicated to Mr. Rose that it wished to review all records – including the consultant’s report itself – before deciding whether the report, or any part of it, should be exempted from public release under the Freedom of Information Law.

“The acting information commissioner has issued an order to the Cabinet Secretary,” the information commissioner’s office email stated. “The Cabinet Secretary will have 45 days in which to respond or seek a judicial review of the information commissioner’s office order.”

It is generally rare for government entities to refuse to disclose requested records to the information commissioner’s office. Handing the records over to the information commissioner does not mean the records will be released; rather it allows the commissioner to review the records to make a determination on what can legally be released to the public.

Premier McLaughlin has said the immigration review was never intended for publication and was meant as legal advice to inform the government administration on what steps it should take to resolve deficiencies in the system for granting permanent residence – the right to reside in the Cayman Islands for the rest of one’s life – that were identified in an August 2015 Grand Court ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie.

The court decision and government’s reaction to it has thrown into limbo the applications of nearly 800 non-Caymanians who have sought residency status in the past three years. The government has determined that those applications cannot properly be heard until legal issues surrounding the residency grant system are resolved.

The issues identified in the 2015 court judgment dealt with two major areas: First, the actions of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal in judging two cases in which non-Caymanians had applied for permanent residence. The tribunal’s actions in the cases were determined to be a “miscarriage of justice.” Those applications were made under a former version of the Immigration Law. The two applicants were recently granted permanent residence following a re-hearing of their case before the tribunal.

The second matter involves the current permanent residence system and how points toward that status are awarded to applicants. Currently, applicants are required to secure 110 points out of 215 available in the application process. Questions have arisen regarding how 15 of those 215 points are to be awarded in the process.

Chief Justice Smellie concluded in the judgment that there were “immediate and obvious concerns” about the current two-tiered system for awarding permanent residence applicants a total of 15 points for their occupation and another 15 points if their job is considered a “priority occupation” according to regulations attached to the Immigration Law.

Premier McLaughlin has said that he would reveal government’s proposals to deal with the issues described by the chief justice before the opening of this month’s Legislative Assembly meeting, but he has not done so.

On Wednesday, the premier told a group of several hundred local business leaders that he could not speak openly about the issue in part due to the Compass’s “relentless” pursuit of the consultant’s report via the open records process.

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