January 25, 2021

The Editor Speaks: The Rivers run smoothly again

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Colin WilsonwebTara Rivers’ introduction to her political career in Cayman’s waters can be likened to a lazy river water ride found in many amusement parks or water parks.

The slow current that normally starts with new young candidates who get elected has not applied to this Rivers. She has been riding a wave as big as the 11ft curl from the wave machine at Grand Harbour.

Thankfully, she has never tumbled and she has ridden the wave with much determination and skill as a seasoned professional.

I don’t remember ever admiring anyone as much as I have this lady. I remarked to some family members, who are not exactly great Progressives (PPM) supporters, the government Ms. Rivers is a member of, if not the PPM party itself, that it would be a tragedy for this country if she were removed by a technicality.

It was, therefore, with a huge relief the Cayman Islands Chief Judge, Chief Justice Hon. Anthony Smellie, ruled in her favour.

A huge sigh of relief resonated around all three islands and I swear it rattled the windows of my house, although it may have been the thunder that was periodically rumbling around outside at the same time.

Gordon Hewitt’s petition filed on behalf of his wife, Velma, who came in a distant fifth to Rivers second place in the West Bay District’s election, was disputing Rivers qualifications. The two grounds of complaint were (1) Rivers possessed and used an American passport, which was an indication of allegiance to another power, and (2) because she lived overseas for a significant part of the seven years prior to Nomination Day she did not fulfill the residency requirements as set out in the constitution.

On the first count Rivers agreed she had a US passport. However, she was born in the USA and this was why she had a foreign passport. It did not mean she had sworn allegiance to a foreign power. She said Cayman’s constitution provided for this exception.

On the second count she said the Constitution allowed for someone to be away during the seven years if they were a student studying. She said she still had her home in West Bay and visited it regularly. She also kept most of her wardrobe and personal possessions at the home. Her absence was necessary as she was furthering her professional education with an established law firm and was, therefore a student.

The Chief Justice in delivering his verdict spoke for over an hour and gave very detailed reasoning for his decision.

He dealt with the thorny problem of Rivers’ absence first and this was the area I felt Rivers could have met her tumble.

Justice Smellie found that her absence was for legitimate professional study. He said Allen and Overy, the law firm where she was employed, could be interpreted as a place of education because of the extensive professional training she undertook while she was there as an associate. He said there was a need for those in professional practice to acquire education, experience and training overseas and that he did not conceive the drafters of the constitution had intended to exclude persons from running for office who were overseas to further their professional education. Even though she was working and earning a salary he considered she was still a trainee solicitor in English law. He was also satisfied she was resident in the Cayman Islands.

When I heard Rivers had won that decision I felt satisfied she was on smoother waters. The wave was much smaller now.

Cayman’s top judge then tackled the passport question. He said he found nothing in the law to persuade him that renewing and using an American passport acquired by birth was an act of acknowledgment of allegiance. He said he felt there needed to be something far greater than a mere administrative act of getting a passport to exclude someone from his democratic right to run for office. He was therefore satisfied Rivers was not by her own act under the acknowledgment of allegiance to another power and was therefore qualified.

The Chief Justice said the evidence from the legal expert on American law, Professor David Cole, swayed him when he had argued no one needed to swear an oath anymore when applying for and using a passport. It was not an act of allegiance over and above the allegiance that exists by virtue of being born in the country.

He also pointed out that Cayman uniquely allows for dual citizenship.

Premier Alden McLaughlin in a prepared statement his office released after the verdict said:

“… I am a bit overwhelmed right now but absolutely delighted. I will sleep better tonight than I have in many months.

“This was a matter on which there was not a great deal of clarity. It was apparent in the Chief Justice’s masterly analysis, as he went through all of the various cases, that the law on this has been all over the place, varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

“Our Constitution is unique in certain respects as was acknowledged also by the counsel for the petitioner this evening. I think for the first time, we have real clarity on the provision about passports, the issue of what qualifies as an ‘educational establishment’ for the purposes of the constitutional provision as well as residency.

“I join with the counsel at the bar who thanked the Chief Justice for a really outstanding piece of work that comprises such very careful analysis of issues which have been around for a long time but continue to lack clarity. I think we all ought to be grateful for the tremendous amount of time and effort that was obviously put in to making sure that these issues become clarified going forward.”

He also praised Rivers saying:

“While the court case has been a source of distraction, Minister Rivers has really shown remarkable character in keeping her composure and getting on with her work in her ministry. As everyone knows now, particularly after the Chief Justice read her outstanding resume in the course of his judgment, Minister Rivers is an absolutely brilliant woman and she is a most able Minster.”

END

My last word (s) is I hope and pray we can all now work together and put all our time and resources in getting our country on the real river. The one that runs smoothly and brings us fortune and not the one that is turbulent and drowns us.

 

 

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