The Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office can now be added to the list of those taking legal action against government over various issues related to the granting of permanent resident status.
Acting Information Commissioner Cory Martinson wrote to Chief Justice Anthony Smellie on Tuesday, informing the judiciary of Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose’s failure to follow an order issued by the commissioner’s office in September. The order sought to obtain a copy of an immigration consultant’s report that government commissioned last year. The report has been requested by the Cayman Compass via the Freedom of Information process, but access to it has been denied.
The information commissioner ordered government to produce a copy of the consultant’s report to assist the commissioner’s internal review in deciding on the Compass’s open records request. In the order, the commissioner stated that turning over the report did not mean it would be disclosed to the applicant (referring to the Compass).
After a 45-day waiting period specified in the FOI Law for such orders, Mr. Rose did not produce the record. Instead, Mr. Rose sent a copy of a “ministerial certificate of exemption” signed by Premier Alden McLaughlin – his boss – to the information commissioner. In the exemption document, Mr. McLaughlin stated that the consultant’s report – completed by immigration attorney David Ritch and his firm Ritch & Conolly – amounted to legal advice that was not in the public interest to disclose.
After receiving the exemption certificate from the premier, the information commissioner’s office wrote to the court Tuesday, seeking to obtain a copy of the consultant’s report for its ongoing review.
The Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law gives the information commissioner broad powers to request information from government entities while determining whether records should be made public or exempted from public view.
In the case involving the Compass FOI request, the information commissioner sought the engagement letter between Mr. Ritch’s firm and the attorney general’s chambers, the full consultant’s report regarding the government’s permanent residence issues, and invoices for and receipts of payments the government made for the consultant’s review.
Section 48 of the FOI Law states that after 45 days, the information commissioner may certify, in writing to the court, failure to comply with an order to produce the documents requested. “The court may consider such failure under the rules relating to contempt of court,” the section states.
“In accordance with section 48, I am certifying to the court the failure to comply with the order,” Mr. Martinson said. “Then the matter of whether we get to see the record or not is in the court’s hands.”
Permanent residence grants
The government initially requested the consultant’s report in the wake of an August 2015 Grand Court judgment that questioned several aspects of the system used to grant non-Caymanians permanent residence, which is the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
The Progressives-led government has been reviewing that system since the chief justice’s ruling, but has not announced publicly any changes it intends to make in response to the concerns raised in the judgment about the arbitrary nature of some of the rules for obtaining permanent residence.
As the debate has continued, no permanent residence applications have been heard by the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board. Since at least January 2015, no applications for residence have been approved or denied by the board, according to immigration records.
As of Monday, the Immigration Department reported 846 permanent residence applications “being processed.” Another 55 were in various stages of review, according to records provided under the Freedom of Information Law.