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The Power of the Constitution During National Disasters

During August 2007, we escaped the wrath of Hurricane Dean and were relieved that our three islands suffered only minimal damage. However, the experience provided yet another example of how our constitution is in fact a living and breathing document and why it is necessary from time to time to adapted it to meet our current and future needs.

Our brush with Dean should carry our thoughts back to our encounter with Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. We may recall that shortly before that storm impacted our shores, His Excellency the Governor dissolved the Legislative Assembly in accordance with the constitution to prepare our Islands for the impending national elections that November. As a result, all previous members of the Legislative Assembly no longer held their offices, although Ministers of Government still sat in Cabinet.

The realities we faced post-Ivan were revealing to say the least. However, had we not been confronted by those realities back then, we would not be as prepared as we should today---including in the constitutional arena.

Accordingly, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ivan required that the Governor invoke the emergency powers under the constitution, whereby he recalled and summonsed at that time, the recently dissolved Legislative Assembly to resume its functions.

It also soon became apparent that national elections could no longer be held in November. Therefore, recommendations were made to Queen Elizabeth II to allow the Governor to extend the period in which the Legislative Assembly was lawfully allowed to sit. The statutory amendment allowed the Legislative Assembly to lawfully sit to March 17, 2005.

Without such constitutional provisions, old and new, the Cayman Islands would not have been able to thrive, administratively, politically or socially, during our time of crisis.

Likewise, the Emergency Powers Law (1997 Revision) utilized during our recent experience with Hurricane Dean was also extensively amended by the Legislative Assembly in 2005 as a result of our experiences with Hurricane Ivan.

Whilst thankfully, the law is rarely used and our leaders are only now becoming familiar with how these new powers apply in practice, we see how breathing new life into how we run our country can assist us when the need arises.

During the Constitutional Modernization Initiative, we would like the people of the Cayman Islands to consider all the proposals that will be put forth on how the administration of our country may be improved through the Constitution. Let’s Start Shaping Our Future Together!

  • Suzanne Bothwell
  • Director

Last Updated: 2007-08-23