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Freedom to Information Law Passed in the Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands joined approximately 70 other countries around the world in guaranteeing a right to information by the passage of the Freedom of Information Law 2007.

The FOI Law governs all public authorities including ministries, portfolios, departments, statutory authorities and wholly owned government companies or companies that the government holds more than 50% of the shares. It may be extended by Order of the Governor after consultation to organizations that provide public services important to the welfare of the Caymanian society and private organizations which receive government appropriations. The FOI Law provides a legal right of access to records held by government to the public and a legal duty for proactive publication of information by public authorities.

Some information excluded from the Law include: records containing information that may not be disclosed under the Monetary Authority Law; records relating to directors, officers and shareholders of exempted companies under the Companies Law; the judicial functions of a court or the holders of judicial office; and intelligence gathering operations of the security services.

An application for information must be made in writing or electronically to the public authority which holds the record. Once a Freedom of Information request is received by the public authority the law provides a thirty (30) calendar days time period for a response to the request which can only be extended by one additional period of thirty (30) days.

Access to a record may be granted, refused or deferred. If access is refused it must be based on an exemption listed in the law. A person has a right of internal review to the chief officer or principal officer, or the responsible minister if they are refused access to a record, provided only some records within their request, their access is deferred, or fees are charged in contravention of the law.

An Information Commissioner is established under the law who may hear appeals of decisions on internal review or where there is a failure of a public authority to comply with its obligations under the law. The Information Commissioner is independent, responsible to the Legislative Assembly and has duties to hear, investigate and rule on appeals, monitor and report on compliance with the law and publicize the law and rights of individuals.

The law also includes a provision on whistle blowers which protects public servants who release information on wrong doing or release information that would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment if it has been done in good faith. The law further requires public authorities to make best efforts to make decisions and the reasons for their decisions public unless the information that would be disclosed is exempt under the law.

It is expected that the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law, once signed by the Governor will become operational in January 2009. This is typical as time is needed for preparation of FOI Regulations, the proactive publication of government information, training of government officials, and the institution of improved records management systems to allow the quick retrieval of records.

Source: Yes, You Can! Newsletter of the Freedom of Information, Cayman Islands, p.1

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