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New Draft Constitution

His Excellency the Governor Mr Stuart Jack, CVO


Today a new draft Constitution for the Cayman Islands has been published. This was agreed at last week's talks in London, which were the culmination of a long process going back some years including two recent rounds of talks in Cayman and, before that, extensive public consultation.

I commend the proposed new Constitution to the voters of the Cayman Islands, who will be asked to approve it, or not, in a referendum in May. And I also commend the hard work of many people here and in the UK to get us to this point.

Up to now I have said little publicly apart from encouraging everyone to make their input through the public consultations or directly to those taking part in the talks. In the talks themselves I played a limited part: my main concern was to ensure that the specific circumstances of the Cayman Islands were factored in and that a new Constitution would be workable.

In my opinion the text released today is a good one. I believe it both reflects the needs and values of the Cayman Islands and forms a solid, workable basis for the relationship between this Territory and the United Kingdom. I believe it will extend democracy and promote good governance.

It will give the people of the Cayman Islands a greater say, for example over international relations, government finances, the police and judiciary. The Governor and the United Kingdom Government will be obliged to consult the Premier - the new word for Leader of Government Business -, the Cabinet or new national bodies on a larger range of issues: this will regularise and extend current informal efforts at consultation. Several new bodies will be established which will be composed mainly of local people. Checks and balances will be strengthened. And the legitimate interests of the UK and its international obligations will also be safeguarded.

The most controversial part of the new Constitution has been the Bill of Rights. The UK made it clear from the beginning that without a Bill of Rights there would be no new Constitution. Many people here were concerned that it would undermine local values. The text agreed last week will not please everybody - in particular some people felt that it should go further and provide for more rights. But in the opinion of most of those at the talks, including the church representatives, the new Bill of Rights is an acceptable compromise.

It will give added protection to ordinary members of the public, for example in respect of the treatment they get from the police and the courts. There will be an independent Human Rights Commission that will monitor human rights in a local context. In areas which the Bill of Rights does not explicitly cover it will be for the Legislative Assembly, in other words the elected representatives of the people of these islands, to decide whether and in what form further rights should be set out in law. I strongly hope that the elected government and legislators will soon take action to strengthen the protection of women and children - some legislation and action in these non-controversial areas have been outstanding for far too long. And I hope they will go ahead with plans to provide better arrangements for young offenders, though I recognise that this requires resources and may therefore not be achievable immediately.

There are three other new features of the proposed Constitution that I particularly welcome.

First, a National Security Council chaired by the Governor and composed of the Premier, two other elected Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and two representatives of civic society as well as the Deputy Governor, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police. The Governor will normally be expected to follow its advice on policy matters. But the wide membership and the exclusion from its remit of operational and staffing matters mean that the police will not be subject to undue political interference. That means, for example, that the Police Commissioner, not politicians, will continue to decide which police officer does which job.

Second, a Judicial and Legal Services Commission chaired by a lay member and composed of local and overseas judges, local lawyers, and members of the public. This will ensure that people appointed to be judges and to a few other key positions such as the Attorney General, and the standards expected of them, are both of a high professional calibre and suit the circumstances of the Cayman Islands.

Third, a Commission for Standards in Public Life chaired by and composed of local people outside politics and the public service. This independent body will have a wide-ranging remit to ensure high standards in the Legislative Assembly, Cabinet, and across the public service.

In several other respects the new draft differs from the current Constitution, which goes back to 1972. It is also important to note some of the things which the draft does not do. It does not push the Cayman Islands towards independence, though that option remains if the people of these islands so chose in the future. It does not oblige the Territory to recognise gay marriage: as British Ministers have repeatedly made clear, it would be for the Legislative Assembly to decide on such matters. Nor does the new draft restrict the right of civil servants to stand for elected office.

Probably none around last week's negotiating table in London is 100% happy with every detail. But I am sure that the text is the best that could be agreed now or in the foreseeable future.

I hope that voters will look at the new draft Constitution carefully and judge the overall package on its merits. Doubtless people will express differing views in the coming weeks, including candidates in the general election. I hope that you, the voters, will not let your decision in the referendum get too mixed up with your decision on how you will vote in the elections to the Legislative Assembly, which will take place on the same day. The country's Constitution is a matter of long term national importance and should rise above short term party politics.

There is one key question for voters in the referendum: is the proposed new Constitution better for the people of the Cayman Islands than the present Constitution. I believe it is.

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver