When thinking of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution, the mind naturally gravitates to the existential – the right to life, personal liberty, religion, property, and the like.
These rights form an immutable foundation of our society; well established and highly regarded, they rarely are blatantly violated in a lawful jurisdiction such as Cayman.
But the full expression and free enjoyment of those “big” rights often hinge on less lofty matters. Therefore, we are pleased to hear the Human Rights Commission intends to focus its efforts on the issue of lawful administrative action.
Too often, Cayman’s public boards, officials and government bodies fail to make fair and equitable decisions in a timely manner. In an interview, recently reappointed Chairman James Austin-Smith told the Compass he intends his commission to focus on how these “everyday rights” are upheld – or curtailed – in the regular workings of government.
Examples abound of government’s failure to ensure the public’s “right to swift and fair decision making from public officials” – too many to list in a single editorial.
Sometimes, this failure impacts hundreds, if not thousands, of people – as in the case of the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board’s years-long delays in processing permanent residency applications. But the failure is no less serious if suffered by one or only a few individuals, as was the case when the Liquor Licensing Board altered official meeting minutes in an attempt to “undo” a decision to allow Peanuts gas station to sell liquor on Sundays. The Peanuts renewal application has been dragging on for months and, in fact, is not yet resolved.
To this, add the law-enforcement practice of releasing “persons of interest” on police bail for months – if not years – without charge or adjudication. In the U.K., such long-term use of police bail has been curtailed because of its negative impact on the person’s civil rights.
The complexity of our laws requires legal counsel for what should be routine administrative issues. From immigration to labor to the environment, laws are intertwined, convoluted and written in such arcane phraseology they might as well be a foreign language.
But the Compass editorial board is particularly concerned by systemwide delays in the workings of our court system, where it is not at all unusual for cases to drag on for years – sometimes as long as a decade.
Take, for example, the case of Champion House – whose owners first appeared in court in 2008 on a charge of failing to contribute to a pensions plan for employees. They pleaded guilty in 2010 but still have not been sentenced for the violation. As the Compass reported this week, sentencing in that case has again been postponed – this time until March 5.
Or the case of Shawn Abshire Bodden, a sergeant with the Marine Unit of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service whose charges on a driving offense were dismissed last November – after 22 court appearances over three years.
Not only do these interminable delays clog up court dockets, they cost a fortune. Few private individuals have the means to litigate a case for a decade – leaving many on our islands “priced out” of access to justice. That is inherently unfair.
Then there are the costs to government associated with drawn-out cases and chronic rescheduling of even perfunctory court matters. Someone – preferably Chief Justice Anthony Smellie – must take responsibility for streamlining court processes to ensure the swift execution of justice and safeguarding our “everyday rights.”