Emergency Powers Law
Published 27th August 2007, 1:20pm
In the event of a major threat to the Cayman Islands, such as an approaching hurricane or in its immediate aftermath, the Governor may issue a "Proclamation of Emergency."
Once the proclamation has been issued, a state of emergency exists until the proclamation has been revoked. And since the law stipulates fines and prison terms, knowing the Emergency Powers Law will help ensure that residents understand the legal boundaries that may apply to several areas of public safety and security.
Long-time residents are very familiar with one aspect of the Emergency Powers Law - the imposition of a curfew. This happened, for example, in the case of Hurricane Ivan. As residents will recall, during the course of recovery from Ivan, the curfew was adjusted, both in terms of time and districts affected.
Another effect that the public may be familiar with is the banning of the sale of alcoholic beverages, to remove any potential threat to good public order.
But the Emergency Powers Law carries authority that extends much beyond the more familiar "curfew," or ban on alcohol sales. Overall, the law allows the Governor to expedite actions in the interests of several broad principles, to effect which he may suspend any relevant legislation:
- public safety and security;
- the acquisition or distribution of essential goods; or
- any other purpose deemed essential to good governance.
Among specific actions, the Governor may declare an area to be unsafe, order evacuation of unsafe areas, appoint "requisition" officers, and impose a curfew (and vary it, as the situation changes).
The Governor may also order the evacuation of unsafe areas.
In both the issuance and revocation of the proclamation, the law states that the Governor should consult the Leader of Government Business. If circumstances make consultation impracticable, the Governor may act without consultation, informing the Leader of Government Business as soon as possible as to what actions were taken.
Further to consultation with the National Hurricane Committee (or any other relevant agency) about the safety of an area, once the Governor issues an evacuation order, anyone entering the area, or refusing to evacuate, is guilty of an offence. On conviction, the offender may be fined between $200 and $2,000; sentenced to two years in prison; or both.
Once an area has been declared unsafe and evacuated, a person must have proper authorisation to enter the area. Proper authorisation is issued by, or on behalf of, the Governor or the Commissioner of Police. Without authorisation, anyone found in the area or anyone attempting to cross a police checkpoint is guilty of an offence. On conviction, the offender is liable to a $2,000 fine and six months in prison.
Requisition officers are empowered, as part of their delegated role in maintaining public order and good governance, to take possession of property. If that step is taken in the public's interest, it is with the understanding that persons whose property may be temporarily requisitioned are compensated when conditions normalise.
In the past, requisition officers have included the chairman and members of the National Hurricane Committee; constables; members of the Special Constabulary who have been called out for service; and members of the Fire Service. Following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, NHC officials made one requisition of a large generator from a gas station to replace a damaged hospital generator.
The public should be aware, however, that police officers at checkpoints will have discretion in the case of employees reporting to work or to essential services. In such cases, people should ensure that they carry identification with them.