An apparent change in policy is making it more difficult for people to access Cayman Islands court documents. A sign posted on the third floor of Kirk House – where the documents are kept – informs visitors that they are allowed to access court records but not permitted to make any copies of the documents.
The text of the sign – posted on the door to the records room – leaves little room for interpretation:
“With immediate effect, and in accordance with the Grand Court Rules, please note that the Court Searches are restricted to the inspection of documents only. The taking of reference notes is permitted. Photocopies or the capture of documents by other means other than notation is not allowed.”
Previous policy allowed visitors to pay for photocopies of official public records. Shiona Allenger, acting clerk of court, recently confirmed to a Cayman Compass reporter that was still the case. But a recent visit to Kirk House by another reporter indicates that might not be the whole story.
The Compass reporter visited Kirk House Tuesday without identifying himself as a journalist, and he was allowed to access court documents for the normal fee of $20. But when he wanted to make copies of the documents, the cashier told him that he was allowed to take notes on court documents but was not allowed to make copies unless he was party to the suit. Another court employee, who identified himself as a supervisor, said that individuals may make copies but only after receiving permission from the clerk of court, Ms. Allenger.
OffshoreAlert, a U.S.-based publication that specializes in the exposure of international financial crime, ran into the same problem on Monday. A researcher for OffshoreAlert went to Kirk House and was confronted by the new notice. Publisher David Marchant said he has no doubt the policy is aimed at his company.
Mr. Marchant said OffshoreAlert has made a regular practice of publishing on its website all writs from the British Virgin Islands High Court, the Bermuda Supreme Court and the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands. And now, he said, is not the time nor the place for the Cayman Islands to be setting a different precedent.
Mr. Marchant said, “I know of no civilized country whose court you can’t go into and copy writs. And even in less developed offshore jurisdictions like St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, you can go in and copy writs. This puts Cayman at odds with the civilized world, and there’s only one reason this change was implemented. And that’s to protect the dubious clients of Cayman Islands companies.
“The Grand Court has sent a message saying, ‘We welcome dubious clients to the Cayman Islands, and the interest of clients of the Cayman Islands is at best secondary and at worst insignificant.’”
Mr. Marchant went on to say that his company spends thousands of dollars in court fees and costs each year in order to bring financial malfeasance to light, and he said he could not fathom why any court or any country would be against the kind of transparency his organization works to promote.
He said, “OffshoreAlert has a history of helping to put people in prison and putting them out of business. That’s what we do. And what sort of jurisdiction doesn’t want clients and potential clients to know about legal disputes?
“This sheds a very unflattering light on the Cayman Islands. You can put out all the press releases you want saying, ‘We’re magnificent.’ The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And in this instance, it suggests otherwise. It suggests you’re ashamed of what goes on in your jurisdiction. You don’t want anyone to know about the disputes that go on in your jurisdiction. It’s shameful.”
OffshoreAlert will comply with the policy, but Mr. Marchant said he will do everything in his power to let people around the world know that the Cayman Islands is not interested in transparency as much as it is interested in safeguarding public information from concerned citizens.