The Court of Appeal on Thursday ruled in favour of the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) government that the Port Referendum Law passed by the Legislative Assembly on 30 October, 2019, is constitutional and set aside the earlier ruling of Acting Grand Court Judge Timothy Owen, which had quashed the law.
The appeal court agreed with the Government that Section 70 of the Constitution does not require a general framework law for a people-initiated referendum, contrary to the earlier ruling of Judge Owen.
The ruling centres on legal challenges brought against the government by Cruise Port Referendum Cayman (CPR) over plans for a controversial mega cruiseship port complex in George Town.
Their case hinged on the interpretation and application of Section 70 of the Constitution regarding the holding of referendums.
The government had arranged a referendum to gauge public feedback to the cruise port project which had been initially objected to on environmental grounds.
Commenting on the outcome, Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin said he was pleased with the Court of Appeal’s decision.
“Government’s decision to go forward with the appeal at this time was a matter of principle-- judges should not have the right to overturn policies that have been made by elected officials as they see fit,” said Mr. McLaughlin.
“I have never been a populist leader, nor am I a good politician in the generally understood sense,” Premier McLaughlin said. “I have always striven to do what I believe is in the best interest of my country and people, without concern of political consequences.”
The long drawn out legal battle has all but sunk the plans for the port project, much to the regret of the Premier, who has been its driving force.
“Although I believe with all my core that Cayman will come to curse the day and damn the hour that the cruise and cargo port project was scuppered; that was not the reason for proceeding with the appeal. Were it so, we would not have appealed,” he declared.
Mr McLaughlin, who is also from a legal background, went on to state:
“What was actually at stake was the right of the democratically elected Legislative Assembly to decide what legislation should be made and the content of those laws. We appealed against the judgment of a temporary judge who we believe usurped the function and role of the LA and arrogated to himself an authority to which he was not entitled. If the judge had been correct, then the role and authority of the legislature would have been greatly diminished, not just with respect to the Referendum Law, but generally. I shudder at the implications for my country when unelected judges are able to dictate public policy.”
Deputy Premier Hon. Moses Kirkconnell concurred.
“I am pleased with the decision by the Appellate Court which accords with the Cayman Islands government’s position that the Referendum Law passed by this administration in October 2019 is compatible with Section 70 of the Constitution,” he said.
“The decision taken by the Grand Court to strike down that Law and compel the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly to pass new Legislation, not only breached the principles of the separation of powers which underpin our democratic system, but equated to a significant judicial overreach.
"Major constitutional issues and serious ramifications can arise when the line drawn between the legislative and judicial arms of government becomes blurred. On that basis, the government felt obligated to appeal the Grand Court’s decision, and although it has been a lengthy process, I am satisfied with the outcome.
Mr Kirkconnell who is also the Minister of Tourism added:
“After the long and arduous journey to finally reach this pivotal point, the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic has, in the meantime, recalibrated the country’s priorities. As a consequence, government has taken the difficult decision not to move forward with the cruise berthing and cargo port project.
He explained that “government’s highest priority since the outset of this pandemic, has centered around putting the needs of our people first, while implementing one of the most proactive and decisive virus containment strategies in the world. With the country now at suppression level 2 and businesses slowly resuming operations in the ‘new normal’, government’s heightened focus on safeguarding public health and well-being will continue to be maintained.”
With the cruise port project no longer a priority, and the cruise industry itself struggling to keep its head above water, Mr Kirkconnell stated:
“At the same time, a range of strategic initiatives are being implemented to revive our economy and rekindle the domestic tourism industry, so that our Islands can be as prepared as possible to welcome visitors back to our shores when it becomes safe to do so.”
Premier McLaughlin was due to make a statement on the ruling on Thursday in the Legislative Assembly.