(CMR) The House Speaker the Honourable McKeeva Bush announced this morning in the legislative assembly that the Human Rights Commission Chariman, James Austin-Smith, was stepping down at the end of his tenure in six weeks. The announcement came this morning (April 11) indicating that the HRC chair will be leaving the position.
There was some initial confusion about the circumstances of his departure. However, we can confirm that contrary to several reports he has not resigned and has not issued an apology to the Legislative Assembly. CMR understands his tenure was due to end in six weeks and essentially he is not electing to renew his tenure with the HRC.
Austin-Smith has remained firm in his position articulated in his original support of the same-sex decision and castigation of the government's decision to appeal the landmark case. In response to Bush's demands for an apology Austin-Smith responded with a continued determination of his position:
In fact, Austin-Smith has long expressed his disappointment at the level of dialogue occurring in the Legislative Assembly regarding homosexuality. In one letter dated August 19, 2015 he noted:
Furthermore, we have been advised that another, unnamed member of the HRC has tendered their resignation as well.
The fallout was a result of a statement issued by the HRC criticizing government decision to appeal the same-sex marriage decision of Chief Justice Anthony Smellie on April 4. The three page statement called the decision appeal “unarguable” and a waste of public funds; which would be better spent on social programs. He stated that:
“It is clear that any appeal by the Respondents (“the Government”) is weak to the point of being unarguable.”
He further went on to say:
“The Government conceded during the litigation that the legal position in the Cayman Islands was discriminatory. The Chief Justice found that the Government’s attempted justification for that discrimination “collapses and fails at the first hurdle” as clearly not being within the law. It is a cause for regret that a decision has now been made to seek to relitigate this case in an attempt to maintain that discrimination. Unjustified state-sponsored discrimination has no place in a modern democracy and it is unlawful under Cayman’s Constitution.”
The Speaker later admonished the comments and indicated that he thought the statement was a contempt of the House and was insulting to the Premier in particular. Many were critical of the Speaker's decision to criticize an independent board and questioned whether the Legislative Assembly was prepared to attack others who had spoken out publicly about the decision to appeal the case.
Since then several pieces of correspondence has floated between the parties which can been seen below. They are also available on the HRC website.
Austin-Smith is a senior associate in our Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department and has particular expertise in trial advocacy and highly contentious matters. James joined Campbells in 2011 having spent six years at another major law firm in Cayman, prior to that he practised from a leading set of chambers at the Bar in London.