Cayman Islands lawmakers want to take away the U.K.-appointed governor’s ability to disallow legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly in instances where the British Overseas Territory is not in breach of international legal and human rights standards.
At the moment, Cayman’s appointed governor can overrule any legislation approved by the elected assembly members if it is viewed to be contrary to the interests of Her Majesty’s government. In practice, that power has been used rarely, if ever, by successive governors.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the government was scheduling meetings with U.K. officials later this year to consider constitutional changes in Cayman that would state “where the Cayman Islands is not in breach of international standards, the power of internal self-governance is absolute and the power of disallowance with respect to legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands be removed as is the case with Gibraltar.”
During a lunchtime address to the Legislative Assembly Thursday, Mr. McLaughlin reiterated earlier statements that the local government wished to remove or significantly change the U.K. government’s ability to legislate directly for the territory.
This is now contained in section 125 of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, which states: “There is reserved to Her Majesty full power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Cayman Islands.”
Mr. McLaughlin suggested Thursday that this section should be removed from the constitution, as was done in the Atlantic territory of Bermuda more than a decade ago. In the absence of removal, Mr. McLaughlin said the section should be clarified so that its power extends only to “serious matters” such as the breakdown of public order and endemic corruption in government, the judiciary or the legislature.
The proposed changes have been agreed upon with Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller. U.K. officials have at least seemed willing to consider them after the Theresa May-led coalition government in the U.K. bungled a May 1 vote in the House of Commons that British Overseas Territories’ leaders said unfairly singled them out on the issue of public beneficial ownership registers for companies and trusts.
The May 1 vote in the Commons approved amendments to the U.K. Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill which require British Overseas Territories – but not Crown Dependencies – to implement a public register of company ownership by Dec. 31, 2020. If that is not done, the U.K. Secretary of State is required to draft orders in council to force the public register upon the territories.
Premier Alden McLaughlin has said any attempt to implement this public register in Cayman will be challenged in the local courts. However, the ultimate court of appeal for Cayman and the rest of the territories is the U.K. Privy Council in London.
Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is the May government’s overseas territories minister, said that everyone should keep calm in the wake of the Commons vote – a vote that the current U.K. government administration did not agree with.
“This is a time for calmness to prevail,” he said. “You cannot say that parliament is sovereign and then not accept its decision. It was not something that we as the British government wanted, but at the same time the parliament has voted as such.”
Mr. McLaughlin said Thursday that the far greater concern for local officials is the U.K.’s ability to continue to legislate for Cayman “on a whim” if other controversial issues arise in the future.
“If the U.K. parliament, emboldened by what it has just done, comes to believe it can legislate for the territories anytime … it is not just our financial industry that is at risk, but really, our very existence,” he said.