The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has not been able to substantiate claims that private investigators have been following opposition members of the Legislative Assembly.
The RCIPS said Tuesday that it had responded to safety complaints filed by MLAs but had not found evidence of surveillance.
“We have jointly investigated these complaints with Immigration, and have not been able to substantiate that any such surveillance has taken place,” RCIPS said in response to queries from the Cayman Compass.
“The complainants have been fully cooperative with our investigation and have been informed of these findings. Should any further concerns be brought to our attention on this matter, they will be duly investigated.”
During a Monday press conference, MLA Winston Connolly said he had filed a formal complaint with police and expected a follow-up meeting with law enforcement.
The surveillance claim was first made public during a Feb. 27 press conference, when Mr. Connolly and other MLAs spoke out against the proposed Legal Practitioners Bill. Mr. Connolly and East End MLA Arden McLean alleged private investigators, possibly foreign, were hired to follow them, either to intimidate or to dig up dirt.
Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo requested before the House later that day that the RCIPS, Attorney General’s Office and Immigration Department immediately investigate the matter.
Mr. Suckoo said after receiving information that Mr. Connolly and Mr. McLean were being followed, other independent members of the Legislative Assembly became concerned for their own safety.
“All of the independent members were potentially targets as well,” Mr. Suckoo said Tuesday.
He said the investigation would remain open and that members still suspect wrongdoing.
“The fact that they haven’t found anyone on the island doesn’t mean there wasn’t something happening,” he said.
Mr. Connolly told the Compass Tuesday, “When I was advised that private investigators had allegedly been hired to follow me, I took the matter seriously and immediately reported it in the Legislative Assembly and to the police to have them investigate.
“They advised me that the matter was investigated fully but to date the information I was given could not be substantiated. They have left the matter open and I have confirmed that if something does arise later I would want to fully prosecute anyone carrying out or having authorised such activities.”
He added, “I take my family’s security and safety very seriously and would like to thank the police for their professionalism and thoroughness in this matter.”
Mr. McLean and Ezzard Miller did not respond by press time to Cayman Compass calls and emails seeking comment on the result of the RCIPS investigation.
Opposition members respond to Cayman Finance statement
During Monday’s press conference, the MLAs defended their criticisms of the Legal Practitioners Bill and lambasted Cayman Finance for “interfer[ing] with the supremacy of Parliament.”
MLAs Messrs. Connolly, McLean, Suckoo and Miller have criticized the bill, saying it seeks to legitimize lawyers practicing Cayman Islands law from abroad.
They took issue with a Thursday statement by Cayman Finance in defense of the bill.
“Cayman Finance, as an entity, serves a very important role in the financial services sector of the islands. However, in this instance, with a board that has members from the Cayman Islands legal associations and the Cayman Islands government, the statements are inaccurate and deliberately self-serving,” the opposition group said in a joint statement.
Mr. Miller said it was ridiculous to say the MLAs’ accusations against local law firms were damaging to the country’s economy and reputation.
“Money, power or international embarrassment cannot and should not be put before the adherence to the rule of law. After all, we are the country that arrested a serving premier on allegations of corruption and subsequently removed him from office,” the joint statement said.
Mr. Connolly said the number of lawyers practicing from abroad cannot be determined. He estimated the number to be more than 180, based on a 2013 statement by Law Reform Commission chairman Ian Paget-Brown.
“No one has been able to get those numbers because the law firms don’t talk about their structures. No one in Cayman knows the exact size of the law firms or how they are structured,” Mr. Connolly said Monday.
He stopped short of calling for greater law firm transparency.
“We’re asking a question. We’re not the court of law. We’re not the ones in charge of legal practices here. We’re asking the question and we want the answer. We think the answer goes toward public policy, good governance and transparency,” he said.
At the heart of the MLAs’ concerns is Mr. Paget-Brown’s 2013 statement: “There are at least fourteen such firms [advising on Cayman Islands law from abroad], with approximately 180 lawyers working for those firms outside of the Cayman Islands. It is for these 180 lawyers that they now need practicing certificates.”
Mr. Miller said a requirement of obtaining a practicing certificate is to be a Cayman Islands resident. He took issue with the idea that lawyers might be granted a certificate without first appearing before the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands.
The MLAs called again for an investigation of these attorneys, but would not name specific cases of wrongdoing. Mr. McLean said a formal complaint had not been filed with police because the role of a legislator is to engage the public.
Mr. McLean opposed the establishment of a legal permit process for overseas lawyers on grounds that the lawyers’ identities were not known.
Compass reporter James Whittaker contributed to this story.