By Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- On Friday, the Cayman Islands court ruled that recently-elected education and employment minister Tara Rivers was not disqualified under the territory’s constitution from standing for election.
Rivers surprise success in last May’s general election was challenged on the grounds that she had dual US citizenship and therefore owed allegiance to a foreign power. Her constitutionally mandated period of residency in the Cayman Islands prior to an election was also challenged.
The Cayman Islands constitution prohibits an election candidate from absence for seven years prior to their nomination, or more than 400 days during that seven years and it was asserted by the petitioner that Rivers had been absent from the Cayman Islands for more than the time permitted.
In relation to the citizenship issue, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said that Rivers has a right to a US passport by birth and that it did not represent an allegiance to a foreign power.
Smellie said he was swayed by the evidence from the legal expert on US law, Professor David Cole, who had given evidence that, because it was not necessary to swear an oath when applying for and using an American passport, it was not an act of allegiance over and above the allegiance that exists by virtue of being born in the country.
Smellie said also found that Rivers’ physical absence from the jurisdiction prior to Nomination Day was not an impediment to her residency, as she retained her home in the Cayman Islands and she was abroad for purposes of study while training with a major established law firm.
The court’s decision in the matter cannot be appealed and is, therefore, effectively the last word on the issue.
Ironically, several candidates in last May’s election gave up citizenships that they held by birth in order to run, on the basis of recommendations from the Elections Office. In addition, one candidate was disqualified from the May ballot on the grounds that he held a US passport, which he acquired by birth. It is clear from Friday’s ruling that the individual concerned did in fact qualify, despite receiving apparently erroneous advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers that he did not.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said he was elated and relieved at the ruling.
“The prospect of a by-election was worrying as it would prove disruptive to government that is now settling in. I am delighted now that on Monday we can get back down to work without this hanging over our heads,” he said.