The final meeting of the 2013-2017 Legislative Assembly may ultimately be remembered for its failure to approve regulatory changes to the Cayman Islands legal profession, but lawmakers approved more than three dozen new laws or changes to existing legislation.
Four bills, the Legal Practitioners Bill and three supplemental appropriations bills which represented formal approval of extra spending by the Progressives-led government between 2013 and 2016, were dropped due to time constraints in the assembly’s final hours.
All government ministers reviewed the additional spending in statements given to the assembly, but the appropriations bills were never considered in the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee or voted on by the full House. The hard-fought lawyers bill was left for the next government, never having received a third and final vote.
A number of significant pieces of legislation underwent major changes during the assembly meeting’s committee stage review in a lengthy and often confusing process.
For instance, in the Trade and Business Licensing (Amendment) No. 2 Bill, which sought to amend 11 sections of the trade and business law, all of those amendments were rewritten in committee. The Water Sector Regulation Bill, 2017, also received wholesale changes in committee. The amendments to the bill were voted “in block” and therefore never heard by the public during the committee stage.
The rewritten versions of both bills have not yet been made public.
Other bills were also significantly changed: For example, the Cautions (Adults) Amendment Bill, 2017, proposed to record convictions against suspects who admitted to more minor crimes, received a police “caution” and therefore avoided having to go to court. Lawmakers amended the bill to set up a new register to record cautions rather than criminal convictions against those individuals. Having a caution by police on one’s record will now be different, as a matter of law, than having a criminal conviction under the new legislation.
The Public Lands Bill, entirely new legislation that seeks to regulate vendors operating on Crown land, established via committee amendments a larger eight-person commission to review applications from vendors. The bill seeks to replace the process used to license beach vendors and other street vendors on public lands.
Legislators approved a handful of bills seeking to regulate water supply, wastewater collection and the local fuel markets.
The changes are part of an effort to combine the regulation of public sector utilities and commodities under the newly formed Utility Regulation and Competition Office. Cayman’s water, electricity, telecommunications and fuel sectors are planned to be regulated under that office, once all the relevant legislation is approved. The Fuel Market Regulation Bill, 2017, raised the possibility that for the first time the Cayman Islands government could attempt to establish petrol price controls in the local fuel market.
Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts said this bill means “momentous change” for the local fuel industry.
The utility regulatory office will be given “significant market power” under the provisions of the bill to determine whether competition among distributors and retailers “truly exists in the fuel market.” If the market is not determined to be competitive, the regulator is authorized to ensure there is “suitable competition,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “If these measures fail, then the next step, in consultation with Cabinet, will be outright market price regulation.”
Early on in the legislative session, three bills were approved enabling the creation of a beneficial ownership registry for corporations.
The registry is not open to the public and is searchable only by the approved Cayman Islands authority upon request by a foreign taxing entity or a police force. The approved bills include the Companies (Amendment) No. 2 Bill 2016, the Companies Management (Amendment) No. 2 Bill, 2016 and the Limited Liability Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The three bills define beneficial ownership and set up the company register, which is sought by the U.K. to assist in financial crime and tax evasion investigations.
Legislation abolishing the independent offices of the information commissioner and complaints commissioner was approved, creating a new ombudsman’s office to oversee open records requests, complaints of government maladministration and public complaints against the police.
The Ombudsman Bill, 2016, gives Cayman’s governor the power to appoint an ombudsman to the new post for seven years with no possibility of reappointment. The governor’s selection must be made in consultation with the premier and the opposition leader, according to the bill.
Two deputy ombudsmen will serve under the ombudsman, one to manage Freedom of Information matters and the other to handle maladministration complaints. Power to deal with complaints against police is given directly to the ombudsman but may be delegated, according to the bill.
The bill makes no mention of any data protection regime, which was once planned to operate under the information commissioner’s direction. However, data protection was revived at the last minute during the March legislative assembly session.
The Data Protection Bill, 2016, which seeks to protect personal private information about individuals, was amended during a committee stage meeting of the Legislative Assembly, but the final version of the legislation has not been made public.
In addition to the legal changes requiring an appointed board to hear applications from vendors seeking to use Crown land, two other bills were approved regarding the use of public land and public spaces.
The Prescription (Amendment) Bill, 2017, sets a new model for public right-of-way disputes in beach access cases that allows the government to act on behalf of citizens in those disputes. Previously, a private property owner or a complainant seeking right-of-way access had to defend or initiate such a case on their own, which lawmakers thought was unreasonable and expensive.
The Registered Land (Amendment) Bill, 2017, will create “volumetric parcels,” believed to be a first in Cayman. A volumetric parcel, often referred to as an “airspace parcel,” is the area above the surface (and sometimes below the land) which the land owner has rights to.
The power to issue “cautions” to suspects in more minor crimes like thefts or threatening violence, rather than arresting the suspect and bringing them to court, will be granted to police under the Cautions (Adults) Amendment Bill, 2017.
Separate changes to the Penal Code allow the director of public prosecutions, in concert with the police, to issue “sexual harm prevention orders” in cases where the order is needed to protect any member of the public from a sexual predator.
The Older Persons’ Bill, 2017, sets out the Cayman Islands’ first attempt to safeguard the rights of its elderly residents. The legislation creates a Council of Older Persons that acts as a watchdog for the elderly. According to the legislation, it seeks to ensure that the elderly are able to access and participate in “all aspects of society” as per the Cayman Islands Constitution Order’s 2009 Bill of Rights.