Form of Government
The Cayman Islands is a parliamentary democracy with judicial, executive and legislative branches. The present Constitution, which came into effect on 6 November 2009, provides for the government of the Cayman Islands as a British Overseas Territory. It is the fourth written Constitution issued for the Islands by the British Crown since 1959, though there is a history of over 160 years of representative government.
The Islands' constitution has evolved as the population and economy has grown; however, Cayman has not moved to the stage where there is a chief minister. The Islands pride themselves on having an independent judiciary, emphasising that the Grand Court was established by the Constitution. In many forms of parliamentary government, executive and legislative branches are not totally separate. In the Cayman Islands, the people elect the members of the legislature, and the legislature elects the majority of the Cabinet.
There is no second tier of local government. A District Commissioner represents the Governor in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Cayman's new Constitution made important changes to government, including the appointment of the first Premier, Deputy Premier, Deputy Governor, and Minister of Finance; the expansion of the Legislative Assembly to 18 members; the appointment of an Electoral Boundary Commission to change district boundaries to allow for the new members; and the appointment of three new commissions to advise the Governor - the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, the Commission of Standards in Public Life, and the National Security Council.
The Judicial Branch
The Cayman Islands has three resident judges, three magistrates and over 140 justices of the peace, some of whom serve as lay magistrates.
The Governor appoints magistrates, judges and the chief justice on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, a body newly formed by the 2009 Constitution.
Justice in the Cayman Islands is administered at three levels - in the Summary Court (including the Juvenile and Drug Rehabilitation courts), the Grand Court and the Court of Appeal.
The Juvenile Court has general jurisdiction to try all summary offences committed by juveniles under 17 years of age. The Court is presided over by a magistrate sitting alone or with two justices of the peace, at least one of whom must be of the opposite gender to the magistrate, or by three justices of the peace, at least one of whom must be a woman.
The Summary Court has a civil and criminal jurisdiction. One or two magistrates normally exercise jurisdiction, although provision is made for two lay justices of the peace to preside. Coroner's inquests are held in Summary Court where a magistrate sits with a jury as coroner for the Islands. Appeals from the Summary Court lie to the Grand Court.
The Grand Court is a superior court of record and administers the common law and the law of equity of England, as well as locally enacted laws and applied laws. A dedicated financial services division of the Grand Court opened in November 2009.
Appeals from the Grand Court lie to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal, composed of a president and not less than two judges of appeal. A judge of the Grand Court may exercise any of the powers of a single judge of the Court of Appeal. Further appeal lies, in certain circumstances, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
Role of the Governor
Appointed by Her Majesty's Government, the Governor presides over the Cabinet, whose advice must be taken except in matters of defence, external affairs, internal security, the police and the civil service.
Under the Constitution, the Governor promotes good governance and acts in the best interests of the Cayman Islands "so far as such interests are consistent with the interests of the United Kingdom".
The Governor may also go against Cabinet's advice if he or she considers it against the public's interest. In cases of urgency this may be done without prior approval from London, but such action must be immediately reported to the UK Secretary of State. The Governor is also not required to consult on matters too unimportant to require this, or if it would be prejudicial to the national interest, though such actions must be reported to Cabinet.
Cabinet is composed of two official members and five elected members, called ministers; one of whom is designated Premier.
The official members are the Deputy Governor and the Attorney General. They are appointed by the Governor in accordance with Her Majesty's instructions and although they have seats in the Legislative Assembly, under the 2009 Constitution, they do not vote.
The five ministers are voted into office by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly. One of the ministers, the leader of the majority political party, is appointed the Premier by the Governor. After consulting the Premier, the Governor allocates a portfolio of responsibility to each Cabinet member. Under the principle of collective responsibility, all ministers are obliged to support in the Assembly, any measures approved by Cabinet.
Almost 80 departments, sections and units carry out the business of government, joined by a number of statutory boards and authorities set up for specific purposes, such as the Port Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Immigration Board, the Water Authority, the Community College Board of Governors, and the National Pensions Board.
The Legislative Assembly
Currently, the 15 elected members of the Assembly represent the Islands' six districts, four each from George Town and West Bay, three from Bodden Town, two from Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and one each from North Side and East End. The Governor must dissolve the Assembly four years after its first meeting, unless it has been dissolved sooner, and a general election must be held within two months of dissolution.
Under the new 2009 Constitution, the Legislative Assembly will be expanded to 18 members. An Electoral Boundary Commission will be appointed to change district boundaries to allow for the new members. These changes should be in place before the 2013 elections.