Human Rights in our Constitution
The Constitutional Review Secretariat’s (CRS) first public meeting served its purpose well with participants raising several important human rights issues needing attention as Cayman embarks on modernizing its constitution.
Environmental protection; the safeguarding of the rights of vulnerable groups, such as children, the elderly and the disabled; and the definition of marriage were some of the issues argued passionately at the roundtable discussion held Thursday, 15 November, in the UCCI Multi Purpose Hall.
More than 150 people attended to hear Prof Jeffrey Jowell, QC, a constitutional and human rights expert, deliver a lecture titled, "Why is a Bill of Rights Important?"
For photos of this event click here
Following the lecture, the audience participated in a lively question and answer session facilitated by panellists drawn from various interest groups and specialisations. Panellists included Human Rights Committee member Melanie McLaughlin; local attorney and Cayman Islands Criminal Defence Bar Association representative Ben Tonner; Freedom of Information Coordinator Carole Excell; Constitutional Review Secretariat Director Suzanne Bothwell; Royal Cayman Islands Police Inspector Anthony White; Department of Children and Family Services representative Alicia Dixon; Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie; National Trust representative Wayne Panton; Sunrise Adult Training Centre’s Director Roberta Gordon; and Cayman Islands Ministers’ Association past President Pastor Al Ebanks.
Commenting on the success of the evening, CRS Director Suzanne Bothwell said: "We will soon be entering the second phase of the Constitutional Modernization Initiative (CMI), which is public consultation. It is so important that people own this process and give their input. It is important that we open the lines of discussion on all constitutional issues, including human rights. Tonight’s event began with an open ad frank discussion on the relevance of human rights in our society and the importance of "Caymanizing" those rights and highlighting the present hardships faced by many in our islands everyday."
Keynote speaker Prof Jowell reiterated the importance of public support for the process of constitutional modernization: "The new constitution "with or without a bill of rights "must come from this soil."
He did however note that because the notion of having a bill of rights as part of one’s constitution is sweeping the world, it would be hard for Cayman to enter negotiations with the United Kingdom without having one.
"The biggest benefit of having a bill of rights in one’s constitution is the protection it affords the individual citizen regarding his/her basic human rights, such as the freedom of expression, association and religion," Prof Jowell said. With a bill of rights a local court of law can uphold any right that is part of the bill, thus giving people a guarantee to that right, Prof Jowell further explained.
He pointed out that different countries have different rights enshrined in their bill of rights and that whatever Caymanians decide to include will be unique to their situation.
"For this very reason, it is of utmost importance that people come out and support our events - that they discuss the issues on the table and make themselves heard. No decisions can be made until we know what the people of Cayman believe is the direction we should take," commented Mrs. Bothwell.
The CRS will hold public meetings in every district on every island in early 2008 which will launch the beginning of the consultation period. The end of Phase 1 is nearing as the Secretariat gets ready to release the Public Discussion Paper.