It’s been a busy second year for the Office of the Ombudsman with a doubling of the case-load in 2019.
The just-published report for last year which has been tabled in the Legislative Assembly, shows “a year of significant growth and accomplishment”.
“Overall, the number of enquiries handled by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2019 increased by almost 60 per cent and data protection is a big reason for that increase,” said Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston.
According to the report, the office added significant capacity during the year, enabling it to respond more robustly to data protection and maladministration complaints, both of which increased during 2019.
The office has also managed to work through a daunting number of backlogged public complaints against the RCIPS, where a total of 144 historical matters initially brought to the RCIPS under a previous version of the Police Law have been resolved.
“Although it has taken a little more than two years to bring all these responsibilities under one roof, with the appropriate legislation in place, the Office of the Ombudsman is now firing on all cylinders and is truly the one-stop-shop that was envisioned by the legislature,” said Sandy Hermiston, Ombudsman.
The Office of the Ombudsman was formed in September 2017 via an amalgamation of the previous Office of the Complaints Commissioner, which dealt with maladministration issues, and the Information Commissioner’s Office, which handled Freedom of Information appeals.
The new office was given the added responsibilities of investigating citizen complaints against police, data protection complaints and whistle-blower complaints.
Cayman’s Data Protection Law took effect on September 30th, 2019 – an important step in the development of privacy protection and international business in the Cayman Islands.
Data protection was the busiest section for the Ombudsman’s office in 2019, receiving 192 enquiries, as well as 12 complaints from members of the public and 25 complaints from organisations during the year.
The Ombudsman’s office reports that it spent a significant amount of time during 2019 in public consultation meetings seeking to educate both the public and private sector about this new legislation and that effort continues in 2020.
The maladministration/whistle-blower investigations team was also quite busy for the year, receiving a total of 106 enquiries, compared to just 58 in 2018. The team resolved 75 complaints in 2019.
Enquiries from the public about police conduct also increased from 18 in 2018 to 33 in 2019. The actual number of police complaints received were 62 in 2019, in addition to the 67 carried forward from 2018. The two-person police investigations team managed to handle these new cases while at the same time clearing up the historical backlog of cases the Ombudsman’s office inherited, resolving 105 complaints in 2019.
The Ombudsman’s office also handled a total of 60 Freedom of Information enquiries, compared to 87 enquiries during 2018, the only area where the Ombudsman’s case load was reduced. However, the Ombudsman issued a record-breaking 12 FOI decisions in 2019, in the tenth year since the coming into force of the FOI Law.
Ms. Hermiston noted that there are challenges the office continues to encounter as it develops, particularly with the general understanding of the maladministration complaints process within government departments, ministries and portfolios. The Ombudsman is still finding that many of these entities do not have a formal internal complaints process for members of the public to use.
“The lack of such policies can cause confusion and delay when complainants come to our office for assistance,” she explained.
Analysts have also noted there are still some significant gaps in understanding of the Data Protection Law on the part of individuals and businesses around the islands which the Ombudsman is helping to address via public education and outreach efforts.