Barrister accused of conflicting interests
A barrister who heads up the Police Complaints Authority, as well as a committee that investigates the conduct of lawyers, should resign from both roles because of a conflict of interest, a pressure group has said.
The Civil Justice Advocacy Group, which describes itself as a “grassroots” organisation, alleged that Jeffrey Elkinson had “put himself in an impossible position of conflict” by representing another lawyer whose conduct was criticised in a claim for damages filed in the Supreme Court.
Mr Elkinson, a director at law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman, hit back at the group, which he accused of hiding behind a “very grand-sounding name” to make “mean-spirited allegations, without setting out any justification for them”.
The CJAG said the matter that involved another lawyer could end up before the Bermuda Bar Association’s professional conduct committee, which investigates and adjudicates on complaints about the legal profession.
Mr Elkinson has been a member of the committee since 2006 and its chairman since 2009. He has been chairman of the PCA, which investigates serious complaints and allegations of misconduct against the police, since 2013.
The CJAG claimed Mr Elkinson’s recent involvement in a Supreme Court matter that involved the Bermuda Police Service also represented a “blatant” conflict that should require him to step down as PCA chairman.
Mr Elkinson said neither situation was a problem, as members of both the PCC and the PCA had to declare any conflicts of interest.
He added that “it would appear that vested interests are at play” in CJAG, although he did not elaborate.
The grievance about the other lawyer was detailed in a damages claim lodged at the Supreme Court in February by a member of the public, with the help of the CJAG. Mr Elkinson wrote to the plaintiff at the end of June to state that CD&P was now representing the lawyer.
LeYoni Junos, a spokeswoman for the CJAG, said the damages claim concerned a conflict of interest — and now another conflict of interest had arisen because the lawyer had hired Mr Elkinson to represent him.
Ms Junos added: “Out of all the 400-odd lawyers in Bermuda, we have the chairman of the professional conduct committee representing the lawyer.
“It sets a bad precedent. The Bar Association is not accountable. It’s too incestuous.”
Mr Elkinson said: “In relation to the PCC, we are a group of eight lawyers and I chair the committee. If there is a complaint concerning a lawyer and a member has a conflict, that member stands down and does not participate in making any decision.
“This is as applicable to me as it is to anyone else on the committee. I do not see how my firm’s representation of a party to a case, who happens to be a lawyer, presents any unusual problem.
“No professional conduct complaint exists against [the lawyer] ... in relation to the allegations. What is being alleged in Supreme Court proceedings against [the lawyer], who is the client ... cannot be said to raise a conflict in my role as chairman of the PCC.”
Ms Junos claimed the BPS case was also a matter for concern.
A PCA investigation was launched into complaints last year over allegations that police personnel leaked images from the mobile phone of a lawyer who had died. The PCA has never made its findings public.
The legal practice where the deceased lawyer worked brought proceedings against the BPS to have the phone returned from police custody.
Ben Adamson, another director at CD&P, represented the police.
A ruling in the case detailed how the BPS instructed Mr Elkinson to negotiate with counsel for the law firm where the deceased lawyer worked on how best to produce a copy of the phone’s hard drive data.
The hard drive and phone were then left, by agreement, in Mr Elkinson’s possession.
The CJAG said it was “regrettable” that Mr Elkinson had taken instructions from the BPS while he sat in a “key position of responsibility to investigate complaints” about the police.
Mr Elkinson said he did assist the police and counsel for the deceased attorney’s law firm regarding the items that needed to be held.
He added: “I was trusted by both sides to hold these items securely. There is nothing regrettable about that. Further, I am not the attorney for the police and the matter is dealt with by another attorney. In relation to any complaint to the PCA concerning the matter in question, I have long ago informed the members of the PCA that I would be unable to participate in the matter due to conflict.”
He said there was no substance to the group’s “vitriol”.
He added: “I do think that it is unfortunate that individuals, who hide their identity under a grandiose name of a group which only seeks to malign those they have chosen to target and seeks to attack either individuals or bodies that do good work in the island for little or no reward, are given a platform.”
Ms Junos said: “We are just trying to highlight what we see as injustices in the community. There is a bar to people getting their cases independently scrutinised.”
She and CJAG coadministrator Judith Chambers declined to share details of their group’s membership with The Royal Gazette on the basis that their complaint was about a matter of public interest and the names were not relevant.
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