A Grand Court ruling issued this week will likely make it easier for political candidates who are born outside the Cayman Islands to stand for election, regardless of the number of days they have been absent from the jurisdiction before candidate nomination day.
The Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, requires a Caymanian candidate who was not born in Cayman to be resident for at least seven years preceding the nomination day date, only allowing them to be absent for up to 400 days during that seven-year period.
The judgment issued Aug. 8 applied to an election challenge filed against the eligibility of George Town South candidate Alric Lindsay.
Mr. Lindsay, who had spent about 797 days away from Cayman in the past seven years, was allowed by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s ruling to run in the May 24 general election. Mr. Lindsay subsequently ran in George Town South where he finished third out of five candidates.
The chief justice noted in his judgment that the objection from the elections supervisor to Mr. Lindsay’s candidacy was the lone issue brought against him after questions about his Caymanian parentage were settled. Justice Smellie indicated that in Mr. Lindsay’s case, it would have been “unduly rigid” and “unreasonable,” given the intent of the territory’s constitution, to disqualify him.
“It is a matter of common knowledge that Caymanians regularly travel to and from the islands for work, business or leisure such that many days or even weeks or months of absences for such reasons will often occur without any discontinuity of one’s ties or commitment to the islands,” Justice Smellie wrote.
The chief justice said it would be “absurd” to consider the 400-day period an automatic disqualification in every case.
“An unduly rigid approach which would involve the supervisor of elections calling for the travel history of every declared candidate who happened to have been born outside the islands, for an arithmetic tabulation of every day of absence from the islands over the course of seven years preceding a nomination day, would be both an impracticable and unreasonable application of the broad language of the constitution,” the chief justice wrote.
During court hearings concerning the matter held earlier this year, Mr. Lindsay argued that the primary reason for his extended absence from the islands was to learn Spanish in order to expand his business into Latin America. The court found that he had always maintained his property and business here and that his level of “attachment and commitment” to the islands could never have been seriously in doubt.
Mr. Lindsay’s attorneys’ fees in defending the challenge brought against him were to be paid by the government, the chief justice ruled.
The residency requirements for Caymanian candidates were described as “problematic” and an “undue restriction” by a group of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association election observers who came the week of the May 24 general election.
Observers said United Nations guidelines for elections have noted that residency requirements for candidates are usually only imposed for local or regional votes and that the period of residence “should not exceed six months.”
The Commonwealth observer team noted the Cayman Islands Grand Court has now adjudicated some of these provisions in recent cases, providing some interpretation.
“The judgments are complex, with the result that it is difficult to predict with certainty how the eligibility status of any aspiring candidate will be evaluated,” the observers’ final report stated.