Lawyers acting for the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman campaign group are considering legal action if government pushes ahead with its current plans for a December poll.
The campaign group has highlighted a series of concerns with the current Referendum Bill, including the timing of the vote, six days before Christmas, and the exclusion of 200-plus newly registered electors who won’t become eligible to vote until 1 Jan.
Legal firm Broadhurst wrote to the government Saturday highlighting a series of concerns about the bill, including the phrasing of the question, the inclusion of the cargo project in the referendum and the lack of any provision in the bill covering campaign financing.
Citing a legal opinion prepared for CPR by election law specialists Helen Mountfield QC and Chris Buttler of UK firm Matrix Chambers, the letter suggests aspects of the bill could be incompatible with the Constitution and open to legal challenge.
“We consider that the proposed referendum procedure would be unlawful,” the Matrix legal team concluded in its 16-page opinion.
Premier Alden McLaughlin told the Cayman Compass on Saturday that government had taken its own legal advice and was more than satisfied that the process it had followed was fair and proper. He said if CPR believes it has a legitimate case it should go ahead and apply to the courts for judicial review.
DOCUMENT: Full legal opinion
DOCUMENT: CPR press release
DOCUMENT: Broadhurst letter to Premier et al
The Broadhurst letter, also delivered to Governor Martyn Roper, Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell and Opposition leader Arden McLean on Saturday, comes on the eve of a two-day parliamentary debate.
Legislators are convening Monday to discuss the Referendum (People-Initiated Referendum Regarding the Port) Bill, which sets out the parameters of the vote, as well as the date and question.
In the letter, Kate McClymont, associate partner at Broadhurst, indicates that CPR Cayman is prepared to seek a judicial review and a ‘stay’ preventing the referendum going ahead if changes are not made to address its concerns.
“We invite you to consult with our clients to ensure any such amendments achieve the intended result, being a fair and transparent people-initiated referendum, carried out expeditiously and without undue expense,” she wrote.
The accompanying legal opinion cites the Venice Commission, an international code of good practice on referendums, and highlights guidelines suggesting the use of public funds for campaign purposes be prohibited.
“We consider the absence of provision for campaign financing in the Bill is a serious flaw,” the opinion stated.
It goes on to highlight the absence of general legislation governing the referendum process and concerns about the sale of liquor on the day of the vote, before concluding the bill, as currently drafted, is unlawful.
CPR Cayman published both the letter and legal opinion Saturday, along with a press release suggesting the bill, as currently framed, is incompatible with the Constitution.
“It is our opinion that the process has been unfair from the outset and neglects to provide the highest standards of international best practice, fairness and equality which is crucial in the democratic process,” the group stated.
Asked for comment Saturday, Premier McLaughlin said government was more than satisfied with its legal advice from noted London counsel.
He added, “What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that CPR is not really interested in holding a referendum, presumably because they think they will lose, but are simply intent on derailing the cruise and cargo port project by any means possible, including frustrating it by delay.
“The government will not allow that to occur. If CPR really believes it has a legitimate challenge to the process being followed by the government, it should immediately apply to the court for leave for judicial review and have the matter adjudicated by the court rather than debated in the media.”