April 14, 2021

Cayman Islands, UK hold constructive constitutional discussions

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GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands – The United Kingdom Government has committed to formally responding to proposed Cayman Islands constitutional safeguards in the coming weeks.

The UK and Cayman Islands Governments held constructive, positive talks on changes to the Cayman Islands constitution over two days in London: Friday, 7 December, 2018, and Monday, 10th at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The Cayman Islands sought these discussions because of a breach of convention and possible constitutional overreach in May this year when the House of Commons legislated for the British Overseas Territories in the area of domestic policy. Responsibility for domestic policy has been devolved to the territories under the terms of their respective Constitution Orders made by Her Majesty in Privy Council. Contrary to longstanding convention the UK Parliament sought to legislate for the territories in an area of devolved responsibility by attaching an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti Money Laundering Bill that was making its way through the United Kingdom Parliament. The Bill with the amendment was passed by the Commons and then later by the House of Lords. This amendment requires the British Overseas Territories, but not the Crown Dependencies, to establish public registers of beneficial ownership, and to do so no later than 31 December, 2020.  

Failing this, the amendment requires the UK Government to utilise an Order in Council to change local legislation to require the governments of the territories to implement public registers of beneficial ownership, effectively legislating directly on a matter that has been devolved to the local governments. The concern is therefore not just about beneficial ownership registers, but about what other areas of devolved authority the UK Parliament may feel it should interfere in without at least consulting with the Cayman Islands Government.

The Cayman Islands is seeking safeguards that will confirm that the Cayman Islands Government has autonomous capacity in respect of domestic affairs, and that the UK will not seek to legislate, directly or indirectly for the Cayman Islands without, at a minimum, consultation with the Cayman Islands Government.

Prior to the meeting the Cayman Islands Government provided the FCO with proposed constitutional changes in draft form. These proposals had the backing of both the Cayman Islands Government and Opposition and formed the basis for the discussions. 

In addition to addressing the principal concern, the opportunity was also taken to seek a small number of administrative changes to the current Constitution Order to improve the operations of the local government and legislature.

During the talks the majority of the proposed changes were agreed in principle whilst the remainder are still under consideration by the UK.  UK officials listened and genuinely sought to be helpful whilst asserting that the UK’s interests and its ability to ultimately legislate for its territories must remain paramount.

The UK committed to formally responding to the Cayman Islands in the coming weeks. Their formal response will include a Draft Order in Council that will confirm the matters already agreed in principle and provide the UK’s proposals on how to address the matters that were left to be considered.  Once the UK’s response and Draft Order in Council are acceptable to the Cayman Islands delegation, then the negotiations will be considered concluded and the proposed amendments will be published and debated in the Legislative Assembly. 

If approved by the Legislative Assembly and subsequently by Her Majesty in Privy Council, the proposed changes are expected to come into effect in time for the 60th anniversary constitutional celebrations in 2019.

Participating on behalf of the Cayman Islands were Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin; Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure Minister Hon. Joseph Hew; Financial Services and Home Affairs Minister Hon. Tara Rivers; Attorney General Hon. Samuel Bulgin; Leader of the Opposition Hon. Ezzard Miller; and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Hon. Alva Suckoo.  They were joined by Government’s Constitutional Advisor in London, Sir Jeffrey Jowell, QC.

Administrative support for the Cayman Delegation was provided by Eric Bush, Cayman Islands Government Representative in London; Samuel Rose, Cabinet Secretary; Roy Tatum, Head of the Office of the Premier; Jason Webster; Cabinet Office Policy Analyst; and Jana Pouchie-Bush, Personal Assistant to the Premier.

The UK team included Mr. Ian Hendry, Constitutional Advisor to the FCO; Mr. Ben Merrick, Director of the Overseas Territories; and Mr. Will Gelling of the FCO; and Greg Reisman, Assistant Legal Advisor to the FCO. HE Governor Martyn Roper also attended.  

Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister for the OT’s, kicked off the talks on Friday and returned for the closing session on Monday. 

Both Premier McLaughlin and Mr. Miller thanked Lord Ahmad, Mr. Hendry and the UK Government for proceeding with the talks despite the current political tumult in the UK. 

The Cayman Islands Delegation now awaits a formal response from the UK Government. 

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