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Discussions Commence

Head of the UK Delegation Ian Hendry.

Opening Statement of UK Delegation

from Ian Hendry, Head of the UK Delegation

Monday, 29 September 2008

First of all, I should like to say what a pleasure it is to be back in the beautiful Cayman Islands, and to see so many old friends again. It is a particular pleasure, and a privilege, to be here on this occasion to resume the constitutional review discussions that had made much progress in 2002 but stalled in 2003. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, and I should like to pay tribute to the careful and considered way in which the Cayman Islands Government has pursued the process here in the Cayman Islands. As a result of the information campaign and public consultations that have taken place, as well as the work done in 2002, I believe we have a sound basis for the work we shall do this week and in any future rounds of discussion.

I should next like to introduce my colleagues in the UK Government team. I am fortunate to be advised by Susan Dickson, a Legal Counsellor at the FCO; by Michael Bradley, the Constitutional Advisor to the FCO Overseas Territories Directorate, who is of course well known here in the Cayman Islands; by Helen Nellthorp, Deputy Head of the FCO Overseas Territories Directorate, who will be our policy adviser and political "commissar" this week; and by Sarah Latham, the new desk officer for the Cayman Islands in the FCO Overseas Territories Directorate.

Next, I should like to make a few points about the process.

First, the process of constitutional review is one of discussion and agreement between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom, reflecting the process with the other Overseas Territories. In the absence of agreement, the current Constitution of the Cayman Islands will of course continue. On the other hand, if agreement were reached between Cayman Islands and United Kingdom delegations to revise the current Constitution, the United Kingdom Government would not seek to put that agreement into legal effect (by Order in Council under the West Indies Act 1962) until there was evidence that it had the support of the people of the Cayman Islands. That evidence should as a minimum consist of the endorsement of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, as the elected representatives of the people. But it would be open to the Cayman Islands Government to undertake additional means of public consultation, and the United Kingdom would welcome that. For example, in Gibraltar the new Constitution was approved in a referendum. In the Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands, further public consultation was undertaken by the local constitutional review commission before the new Constitutions of those territories were debated and approved by their respective Legislative Councils. My understanding is that here in the Cayman Islands the intention is to seek the approval of the people in a referendum.

Secondly, and indeed as the foregoing necessarily implies, nothing is finally agreed in the process of negotiation until everything is agreed. In other words, it is the package as a whole that must be acceptable both to the Cayman Islands and to the United Kingdom.

Thirdly, in the light of experience with other overseas territories, the process of constitutional review may well require more than one round of discussion, if necessary with a final round in London with the responsible UK Minister to try to resolve the most difficult outstanding issues.

Fourthly, the objective - at least from the United Kingdom perspective - is to explore thoroughly the constitutional arrangements for the Cayman Islands with a view to agreeing a modernised Constitution with which both the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom are comfortable.

Fifthly, the United Kingdom negotiating team approach constitutional review with no preconceived agenda. We are ready to explore and discuss any proposals the Cayman Islands delegation might advance. The United Kingdom team would wish to discuss some changes to the current Constitution; for example, the United Kingdom has a strong interest in the inclusion of an up-to-date fundamental rights chapter in the Cayman Islands Constitution.

As the FCO Minister for the Overseas Territories said in her letter of 3 April 2008 to the Leader of Government Business:

"The British Government would not agree to a new Cayman Islands Constitution that did not include an up-to-date human rights chapter. This chapter would need to reflect the fundamental rights set out in international human rights treaties that have been extended to the Cayman Islands for many years".

But in all respects the United Kingdom team will be striving for the best possible outcome for the Cayman Islands that is consistent with the United Kingdom's continuing responsibilities for the Cayman Islands. These responsibilities include ensuring good governance, a non-political civil service and police force, the independence of the judiciary, the maintenance of law and order, the fulfilment of international obligations, and the minimisation of contingent liabilities.

Finally, the Cayman Islands delegation can be assured of our constant good faith in this matter, of our determination to work hard for an excellent outcome for all concerned, and of our wish to conduct discussions in as friendly a spirit as possible.