MPs back law restricting evidence access over security

| 28/02/2024 | 29 Comments
AG Sam Bulgin presents the bill to parliament

(CNS): None of the Cayman Islands’ political representatives objected to a new piece of legislation presented to parliament by Attorney General Sam Bulgin on Monday that restricts access to important evidence or information in civil or human rights proceedings as well as judicial reviews if the authorities say it cannot be disclosed for security or public interest reasons.

This could have a negative impact on the public’s ability to challenge the power of the state or government’s actions against them, but no members of the opposition, independents or back-benchers challenged the bill before it was passed.

Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart (GTE) said he initially had misgivings about the law because he did not really understand what it was trying to achieve, but after the attorney general met with the opposition MPs in his chambers to brief them on the bill, they fully supported it. Independent opposition member Chris Saunders (BTW) said he had reservations but understood it was a “sign of the times” that it was needed.

The Civil Proceedings (Closed Material Procedures) Bill, 2023 does not apply to criminal trials, but it will allow the authorities in civil cases where citizens are in dispute with the government on a whole range of potential legal issues to withhold the evidence on which decisions have been made from those affected by those decisions on grounds of national security or public interest.

From immigration issues to Bill of Rights cases, this new law could undermine the ability of people to successfully challenge what the state does to them without it having to prove the probity of the evidence it has against an individual.

As Bulgin explained to parliament, the genesis of the bill was the difficulties the authorities encountered during a human rights case brought by two Caymanian men serving life sentences for murder. Justin Ramoon and Osbourne Douglas, who are brothers, were removed from HMP Northward in 2017 without notice and taken to the UK to serve their sentences.

They were convicted in 2016 of murdering Jason Powery outside a bar in George Town in July 2015 and given lengthy life tariffs of more than 30 years each. The brothers were sent to UK jails under archaic colonial legislation, but soon afterwards, they challenged their removal in the courts.

The crown argued that the two men were a significant national security risk. The authorities claimed that they had continued their life of crime behind bars, manipulating the behaviour of their criminal associates on the outside, ordering hits on their gang rivals, being involved in gun smuggling, and were even said to be planning an escape from Northward. The crown sought to keep the evidence and information that led them to conclude they posed such a serious risk from both men and their lawyers.

However, because there was no legislation that enabled the government to do this, the courts found against it in a number of hearings, many of which were held behind closed doors. The Grand Court, the Court of Appeal and the UK Privy Council all found that the authorities did not have the power to hold closed-door hearings that excluded the brothers.

The Douglas and Ramon case continues to wind its way through the justice system, but the process adopted throughout the hearings that had kept the grounds for their removal to the UK from the men has been found wanting.

As a result, the bill was drafted to give the Cayman Islands Government a legal path to closed-door hearings where material against any individual, not just those convicted of a crime, can be withheld from them and will be examined only by an independent advocate.

This will make it exceptionally challenging for anyone to argue against the probity of evidence on which the authorities have based decisions against them, which may have caused harm or duress, on a wide range of potential issues, such as deportation cases, family court, or even the revoking of a business licence by the government.

While no one in parliament raised any real concerns that the law, which is based on UK legislation, poses a potential threat to human rights, some members of the local legal profession have raised concerns. Lawyers have told CNS that Cayman does not have the resources to provide a pool of specialist advocates to act as independent reviewers of the crown’s evidence who are not already involved in representing people likely to be most impacted by the law.

According to the bill, the attorney general will publish the list of special advocates and provide administrative support, which creates a potential conflict given that the AG’s chambers will be involved in all of these cases.

There are also concerns that the law will be overused and that it undermines the principles of fairness. It gives the already powerful state the upper hand in sensitive cases where, for example, the government is trying to remove a child from a family or in complex asylum cases involving refugees.

People who have a genuine grievance over a government decision could find they cannot fight it because they are not allowed to know what the authorities have based that decision on in order to challenge it.

As he explained the legislation to the parliament, Bulgin said it was to protect sensitive material or information which, if disclosed publicly, would risk harming national security or other public interests, indicating the wide remit the law will give the government. The attorney general will be required to provide reports to parliament on the use of closed material applications, but it’s not clear what other oversight there will be or if those reports will be made public.

The legislation applies to proceedings currently in the court or pending or in progress immediately before the legislation comes into force, which means that the attorney general will be able to continue withholding the evidence in the Douglas and Ramoon case when that returns to the court.

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Category: Crime, Laws, Politics

Comments (29)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Two reasons it’s not been objected to:

    Many members will not have understood it

    Those that did will have been told not to object by Mother

  2. Anonymous says:

    They will eventually use this law to protect themselves from accountability, including when someone brings a credible case against a government official for wrong doing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Elected MPs

    And why exactly have you NOT objected to agreeing to an evidentiary standard of, the Government essentially putting into LAW, “trust us, you’re guilty, because we said so”. ?

    Please make a Public Statement as to why you, representing the people of West Bay South, believe that the above-referenced LAW is good for everyone who has elected you, to be in their best interest for the Government to NOT disclose evidence that they have against anyone and use it to prosecute anyone without disclosure?.

    ‘Things that go huh!.. the UK infiltrated the Cayman Islands some years ago on a mission to destroy the Financial Industry, years after, in court hearings, we were informed that, “paraphrasing” …to reveal the evidence of what was going on/planned, would greatly diminish the trust between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom. Now doesn’t that smell like a very rotten egg that’s hit you in the face!?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Who needs other sources of entertainment when you read daily about the Cayman Islands news.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The law is illegal and easily challenged.

  6. Anonymous says:

    How about the Human Rights of their victim not to be murdered?
    No sympathy with them at all. Should have been hung.

    All the “clever” people say that the death penalty doesn’t reduce crime. Yet over the last 50 years our violent crime has gone from almost zero to a country where one can be shot attending a football game.

    • Anonymous says:

      You raise valid points. Amongst other contributing factors, might the significant increase in the population have something to do with rise in violent crime? Things were more peaceful and safer when the Cayman Islands a smaller population.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s complacent Caymanians that allow convicted criminals to run for office, to meet with international criminals, form policy, author laws that insulate them, take action or no action, direct billion-dollar budgets, sign secret deals, shortcut procurement procedures, etc etc. and now, without any recourse for “security reasons”.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Not one objection…! Speak volumes fot human rights. Are we moving forward?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yes- similar to the HSA Law for medical malpractice and negligence. The Government’s Health Services (Statutory)Authority cannot be challenged/sued with evidentiary discovery.

  9. I'm Not convinced says:

    Hmmm – This “feels” like a clandestine operation, very MI5/FBI type of eavesdropping. Or perhaps the criminal brother’s gang had an informant, an inside man/woman and this info for sure can’t be revealed, for that person’s safety & security.

    Make no mistake, I support keeping those 2 criminals as far away from the normal world as possible, & do it humanely but strict on who and when they are allowed to talk to people outside of their prison walls. Since it’s known they have kept pulling the strings from prison.

    However, I won’t support intelligence gathering that’s outright illegal or infringes on the rights of the people, us Caymanians/residents/temp or otherwise, imprisoned people or not. There’s established rules/regulations and right to privacy laws. There’s something for such things, warrants. Go get them and convince a judge or JP that it’s warranted! And I hope those that are tasked with upholding the law, signing off on such issues aren’t just waving their pens, not without inquiry into how certain information was gathered, will be gathered, etc – why a warrant is needed for spying, etc. (I say this word, spying with no proof such thing went on in This case).

    I’m of course speculating, but I won’t rule out that it’s not 1 or 2 or similar such things have gone on with this particular case & the court challenge brought from the brothers and now the AG wants to make sure any questionable or outright information that was gathered at the time, information that may have not at all been Legally acquired, if any such shenanigans went on this must never be seen/known to the public. That’s my feeling about this law being instituted so quickly, no politician questioned it, all hush hush. Maybe it’s because I’m old, been around, and seen such things in my 73 years, but I don’t like it one bit, leaves a bad taste in my mouth for sure.

    This hurriedly voted into new law all feels very Orwellian to me. And you know what they say, Orwell never ends well!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Our politicians are shady people!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Sad sad sad sad day for open justice on an island where disclosure is already woeful.

  12. Anonymous says:

    One step closer to the communist Cayman we experienced during COVID. No doubt this can be used against persons who decide to speak against CIG. If things were done properly according to law, then there is no need withhold evidence against a person, unless there is evidence that can set them free. Please make this make sense.

  13. Ironside says:

    “But herein lies the difficulty in that: in our everyday lives, when we are behind closed doors, and our ideals are not publicly put to the test – when no one else can see us – we are forced to realize it takes more than courage to uphold our beliefs; it takes a consistent character.”

    I’m not convinced that the current crop of politicians & public prosecutors have a Principled, consistent character, and I fear this new law will infringe mighty on the right to know on some very important information and challenges to their jobs when we the public make requests/issue challenges. I fear that this new law will abused, world history has shown such scenarios many times over.

    Politicians & public prosecutors are employed and paid for by the public’s purse, and that purse is filled with monies from, you guessed it, the public! And that’s one of the reasons we should always challenge them.

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Cayman politicians being outfoxed again and in turn the public being outfoxed. You can’t make this up. This place will soon be like its Caribbean neighbors and YOUR kids will wonder in amazement at how prosperous it USED to be.

  15. Minister of Justice says:

    This further buttresses the need for a Ministry of Justice, where an MP, who is democratically elected by the Caymanian electorate, is the Minister of Justice that deals with such legislative policy-based issues concerning the justice system and legal proceedings.

  16. Anonymous says:

    clear as mud.

  17. Anonymous says:

    They are just trying to fix the current issue when people challenge decisions by using a JR and they find out that CIG actually has no basis for making the decision it is just made, like most cabinet decisions. With this new Law they will now not have to face the consequences of making bad decisions that benefit no one.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The criminal MPs just agreed to an evidentiary standard of, “trust us, you’re guilty, because we said so”. Insane.


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