Investigation uncovers ‘weaknesses’ in court system

The Cayman Islands courthouse, in George Town. -Photo: Taneos Ramsay (file)

An internal investigation into the Judicial Administration has revealed “weaknesses”, said Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, following conflicting accounts of the delayed publication of documents surrounding an impending judicial review of Governor Martyn Roper’s use of his reserved power.

Smellie, who commissioned the investigation, said, in a statement issued Thursday, 25 March, “I consider it vital that the public retains confidence in our Court system and consequently I instructed a Queen’s Counsel to undertake an independent fact finding exercise to see how the situation arose.”

He added, “I am now aware of weaknesses in administrative practice and they are being remedied. I am taking the necessary steps so that these unfortunate circumstances do not recur.”

The documents in question include a writ filed by Kattina Anglin and Justice Richard Williams’ subsequent ruling on the writ. The writ claimed that last year Roper acted outside the scope of the reserved power granted to him under Section 81 of the Constitution, when he assented to the Civil Partnership Act, after Cayman’s legislators voted it down. That law gives same-sex couples legal recognition in the Cayman Islands.

In his statement, Smellie outlined the series of events that led to the failure of the documents being uploaded to the court’s online public register in a timely fashion, and the subsequent misleading explanations given by the clerk of court.

Although the initial investigation has concluded, Court Administrator Suzanne Bothwell, speaking for the Judicial Administration, told the Compass Monday, 29 March, that work is ongoing to address the findings.

“In summary, the exercise being undertaken not only to respond to what happened in this case but to address weaknesses which might arise in relation to the disclosure of information across all divisions of the Courts, and requires careful consideration for the streamlining of practices both at the personnel and technological levels, as well as the modernisation of rules and practice directions,” Bothwell said.

“A comprehensive assessment is underway, the results of which will likely be announced or otherwise become apparent in practice during the ensuing months.”

The confusion caused by the tardy release of the documents and the subsequent conflicting reasons for the delay, was met with criticism from Colours Caribbean – a Cayman-based activist group concerned with LGBTQ+ issues. The group had initially called for an independent review into the matter and said they welcomed the chief justice’s report.

“[W]e are delighted the Chief Justice concluded that the inconsistencies we highlighted between the statement by the court and the statement by the Clerk of the Court “led to justifiable concern”, reads a statement from Colours Cayman, which also expressed dismay at what it called “a blatant dismissal of their concerns” by the governor.

On 20 Nov., Williams gave the green light for the judicial review on the basis of Anglin’s first ground, which stated, “The Governor erred in law by using section 81 to enact the [Civil Partnership (Act)]”.

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