Following a nebulous period of about two months when it appeared the Cayman Islands court system had tightened restrictions on public access to local court records, it now seems officials may be preparing to make those records freely available online.
The Grand Court Rules Committee – composed of Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin and two local attorneys – met this week to consider revising the procedures involved in searching and publishing the contents of open court records.
Court Administrator Suzanne Bothwell said the court could begin making registries available electronically on its own website.
“I can confirm that steps are currently under way to make available online, on the Judicial Website, free of cost, the inspection of all public registers, including unreported judgments,” said Ms. Bothwell. “This is aimed at expanding the public’s access to court records.”
In late April, the Cayman court system had begun limiting access to court records to include only the taking of handwritten notes, and prohibited photocopying records unless the clerk of court had given permission. The move aimed to prevent the wholesale reproduction of court records for commercial purposes by organizations such as U.S.-based online publication OffshoreAlert, which specializes in the exposure of international financial crime.
Under the previous policy, members of the public had been allowed to access the physical court documents (which are kept in a room on the third floor of Kirk House) for a search fee of $20, and then were able to photocopy records for a fee of 50 cents per page.
Under the policy enacted in April, in addition to the new requirement for permission from the clerk of court, members of the public who wish to make photocopies of court documents now must pay the $20 search fee, the 50-cent-per-page copy fee, and a new $20 fee for each document that is to be copied.
After an interruption in being able to photocopy records, OffshoreAlert recently resumed publishing Cayman court records online.
OffshoreAlert Publisher David Marchant said he sent a new researcher down to access court records, and he was able to update successfully the contents of his website’s public records database last week.
Mr. Marchant, when reached by email, said he was unclear on what had changed in the interim.
“I have little or no interest as to why the court decided to ban the copying of documents, an act that to me, seemed illegal and demonstrated egregiously poor judgment on the part of the court,” he said of the court’s open records policy. “That’s in the past. My immediate concern was that the ban was overturned, which it was. Going forward, I hope it doesn’t happen again because it made Cayman look like a third-world jurisdiction, not the first-rate jurisdiction that I generally know it to be.”
Back in April, when the court’s policy shifted, the Cayman Islands Judicial Administration maintained that there had been no change in rules, but the new measures would rectify “unintentional departures in practice over time,” and were intended to protect Crown copyright in court rulings, as well as the copyright of the parties that file writs and other originating documentation with the court.
Ms. Bothwell, the court administrator, told the Compass via email, “Whilst inspection to Public Registers continues to be permitted, reproduction beyond uses prescribed under the Grand Court Rules continue to be relevant to the protection of Crown Copyright in respect of some public registers.”
She said the Rules Committee will soon finalize its recommendations.
“Once the Rules have been finalized regarding the ability to reproduce any given document on a public register (whether hard copy or electronic), these will be communicated to the public at the appropriate time,” Ms. Bothwell said.