Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said his government will change its stance on whether “cautions” issued by police inspectors or the prosecutors office are recorded on a suspect’s permanent record.
Under the Cautions (Adults) Bill, 2017, Cayman Islands criminal suspects who have admitted to certain crimes may be allowed a “caution” under the law, rather than being charged and facing court for their alleged offense.
Police cautions, which have been used in the U.K. for decades, constitute a formal warning to an adult offender who has already admitted to the crime.
Cayman Islands police have previously advocated for the same powers, but the proposed Cautions (Adults) Bill, 2017, represents the first time the measure is being brought to the Legislative Assembly.
According to the text of the Cayman Islands bill: “Where a suspect has behaved in a manner that amounts to an offence and the suspect has admitted to so behaving, that suspect may be cautioned in accordance with this law, instead of being charged with, or prosecuted for, the offence …”
A caution is not considered a conviction, but it is placed on a person’s record and can be used against them in the event of a separate commission of crime.
A list of offenses considered “cautionable” under the bill include: theft, handling stolen goods, making off without payment, assault causing actual bodily harm and possession of a controlled drug not considered a “hard drug.”
Opposition lawmakers objected Monday to a number of areas of the bill, although not to the concept of the overall proposal.
Some MLAs said they were concerned about the “human factor” in police officers issuing cautions, while others worried that the legislation might give the impression Cayman was “soft on crime.”
“We must not do anything to mollycoddle anyone,” Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said. “Crime is certainly affecting far, far too many people.”
Other opposition members wondered whether it would still serve to punish younger offenders for “youthful indiscretions,” leaving a black mark on their permanent record. Those records would prevent younger Caymanians from earning gainful employment later in life, the opposition members said.
Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo suggested the bill represents a form of electioneering that would serve to whittle power from the independent judiciary and courts, putting it in the hands of the prosecuting authorities.
“While I know there are many honest, hardworking officers in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, there have been recent examples of abuses of power,” Mr. Suckoo said. “We’ve had the previous commissioner admit there are corrupt officers in the force.
“Let’s get to the root of the problem and stop putting band aids on an issue that’s out of control,” the Bodden Town MLA continued. “Those same people that we think we’re helping are going to be those same people … to say they’re still in the same situation, they still can’t get jobs, they’re still being discriminated against and they’re going to expect us to find a solution to the problem.”
Premier McLaughlin said Monday during his debate on the motion that while some opposition MLAs had put forward good observations on the bill, Mr. Suckoo had “missed the point.”
Mr. McLaughlin said there are a number of safeguards in the bill to ensure the suspect’s rights are protected, including that the ability to “caution” an individual is left either to a police officer of inspector’s rank or above, or to the director of public prosecutions.
The suspect must agree to plead guilty to the offense, although there was some disagreement in the legislature as to whether, or even how, an attorney representing the defendant might be involved in that process. Ultimately, the decision to prosecute an offense in the courts still lies with the director of public prosecutions, the premier said.
“it’s not just a matter of reducing pressure on the police and courts system,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The principle objective of this exercise is to avoid so many of our young people being convicted and developing police records for a first, relatively minor offense.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the government would consider changing the bill to remove cautions from a person’s permanent record and creating a separate cautions list maintained by police or prosecutors.
The premier agreed this one bill would not solve all of Cayman’s systemic problems with crime and unemployment, but he said he believed it would operate as a part of that larger effort.
“We have deep systemic issues; these are a few of the measures that this government has employed to try to assist young people by not shutting down their opportunities to participate in the economy,” he said.