On July 4, 1959, the Cayman Islands received its first written Constitution, a fundamental step in its political advancement. Leading up to that momentous event, the Caribbean was engaged with the advent of the West Indies Federation. Jamaica, who had governing authority over the Islands, was moving towards independence; and Caymanian women were demanding their right to vote.
Our country was faced with uncertainty, and in a 1955 petition to the Colonial Secretary, the six members of the Advisory Executive Council detailed their wish for the country to govern its own affairs and retain a considerable degree of autonomy under the Governor rather than the Government of Jamaica.
Cayman’s aspirations for self-government were further outlined in a 1957 memorandum to Chief Minister Norman Manley of Jamaica: “It is felt that as consideration is now being given to a new Constitution for Jamaica… and that what has existed for many years in practice, should now be recognised in Law and that provisions should be made… that the Cayman Islands shall have complete authority in their internal affairs and be no longer subject to legislation or control by Jamaica.”
The 1959 Constitution heralded several important transformations. It repealed the 1863 “Imperial Act XXXI — An Act for the Government of the Cayman Islands,” which provided for the Jamaica Legislature to make laws for the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands were placed under the authority of the Governor of Jamaica, not the Jamaican legislature. The post of Commissioner was changed to Administrator, the body of Vestrymen and Justices was replaced with a Legislative Assembly and Executive Council, and all adult Caymanians afforded the opportunity to vote and stand for election — a huge stride for women’s rights.
Join us as we celebrate 60 years since our Islands’ “big step forward into the mainstream of modern constitutional practice,” as described by Commissioner Alan Donald in the last sitting of the Justices and Vestry on July 3, 1959.
Author: Text Courtesy of Cayman Islands National Archive