The UK’s Privy Council has rejected Cruise Port Referendum Cayman’s application for leave to challenge the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal’s decision on people-initiated referendums.

The decision upholds the Court of Appeal ruling that there is no need for the Cayman Islands to enact a general referendum law for bringing into effect people-initiated referendums.

The Privy Council, on 28 April, refused leave/permission to CPR Cayman’s Shirley Roulstone to appeal the 8 July 2020 ruling handed down by the Court of Appeal, a statement by the Attorney General’s Chambers noted.

“As a result, the Court of Appeal’s clarification on Section 70 of the Cayman Islands Constitution on people-initiated referendum legislation remains the law,” the statement said.

The Council’s refusal of permission, the statement explained, in effect means that Section 70 of the Constitution does not require a general referendum law.

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Shirley Roulstone, right, with her lawyer Kate McClymont – Photo: Stephen Clarke

“Instead it is permissible for the Parliament to enact separate pieces of legislation for each referendum as has been done each time a people-initiated referendum has been held so far,” it stated.

According to the statement, the Privy Council said that, having considered written submissions from Roulstone’s legal team, the Cabinet and the then Legislative Assembly, it agreed that the permission should be refused on the ground that the appeal “… does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance that the board should consider at this time”.

Last year, the Court of Appeal declared the 2019 Port Referendum Law, enacted by the National Unity government led by former Premier Alden McLaughlin, to be compatible with the Constitution.

That ruling overturned Grand Court Justice Tim Owen’s judgment.

Owen had ruled Section 70 of the Constitution, which deals specifically with people-initiated referendums, ought to be interpreted as calling for a “framework law” that regulates the process of creating individual people-initiated referendum laws.

Owen had originally presided over Roulstone’s judicial review case challenging the referendum law that was passed in 2019 specifically to pave the way for holding a vote on government’s $200 million cruise berthing and cargo project.

The judge had quashed the referendum law enacted for the port project’s people-initiated vote, the first to be triggered here. He declared it unconstitutional.

The government appealed that ruling and was successful.

The Attorney General’s Chambers, in its statement, said it welcomed the Privy Council’s decision and “this very helpful clarification of the Constitutional position, given the understandable public interest surrounding this issue”.

The Court of Appeal had confirmed that the right to participate in a fair and effective people-initiated referendum can be fully protected by a referendum specific law.

While McLaughlin, in a brief comment to the Cayman Compass on the Privy Council decision Friday, said he welcomed the ruling, he expressed disappointment that the issue was not able to be fully debated.

“Once more the court has found that the measures my government took to hold the referendum on the cruise port were lawful and reasonable. Regrettably, the unjustified legal action that CPR initiated to derail the holding of the referendum in December 2019 deprived the people of Cayman their constitutional right to determine whether or not the cruise port should be built. Consequently that issue remains an open question,” McLaughlin said in his written statement.

The government panel at the 5 May press briefing. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

The issue of holding the referendum was raised during a press briefing on Wednesday, 5 May, the first one under the new government led by Premier Wayne Panton.

Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan was asked whether there were any plans to move forward with the CPR Cayman people-initiated referendum on the proposed cruise port.

He said after receiving “advice and direction” from the attorney general, unless the project was an identical plan to the one promoted by the Progressives-led government, “a referendum would not stand, moving forward”.

That project was abandoned by McLaughlin following legal battles with CPR Cayman and community protests.

Panton has said his PACT administration has no plans for a cruise berthing project, nor has government held any discussions with Royal Caribbean on the matter despite that cruise line’s president recently saying the future of the port project was “undecided”.

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