Wedderburn suffers judicial setback
The former chief executive of the Bermuda Health Council will consider her next steps as she battles a government that seems to have bottomless pockets, her lawyer has claimed.
Eugene Johnston, who represents Tawanna Wedderburn, said her legal proceedings against the Premier, the health minister, the health council and its former chairwoman were just beginning, despite a ruling last week that found her case could not be tested by judicial review.
Assistant Justice David Kessaram found that there was no public-law element to the termination of Ms Wedderburn’s employment last December.
Respondents in the case welcomed the judgment and the Ministry of Health added that the allegations made by the former BHeC chief executive, who claimed her sacking was politically motivated, were “baseless”.
Mr Johnston said: “Ms Wedderburn has faith in Bermuda’s courts.
“Although she is taking on a government whose pockets seem to have no bottoms, and even though her own finances are strained, she believes that in time, what she said took place at the Bermuda Health Council between 2017 and 2018 will be judged against what the Government says occurred — and the appropriate result will be reached.”
The lawyer said Ms Wedderburn hoped a future outcome would “correct” her termination and also make sure that “a governmental body which is so important to every resident’s healthcare on the island operates as the Bermuda Health Council Act 2004 and the general laws of Bermuda demand”.
Ms Wedderburn made an application to the Supreme Court for judicial review in March.
She alleged that David Burt, the Premier, interfered in the running of the BHeC to push taxpayer-funded payments to Ewart Brown, a former Progressive Labour Party premier.
Ms Wedderburn claimed in the proceedings that Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, and Alicia Stovell-Washington, then the BHeC chairwoman, interfered with the day-to-day operation of the council.
She sought to win an order that would quash her termination
The allegations were vigorously denied during a one-day hearing in front of Mr Justice Kessaram last month, when lawyers for the parties presented arguments on whether the case involved matters of public law, suitable for a judicial review, or private law, where an alternative legal remedy could be sought.
His written judgment was delivered on Wednesday.
Mr Johnston explained later: “After Ms Wedderburn was fired as CEO of the Bermuda Health Council on December 7, 2018, she didn’t, at the height of emotion, run to the Supreme Court and make an application for judicial review.
“She sat, read through documents, and with deliberateness, considered the implications of bringing a case like this against the public officers who are at the centre of the allegations she makes.
“She knows the allegations are very serious, and she understood, from the start, that the Government would likely use every resource at its disposal to keep those allegations from being tested in any public forum.
“Six months have passed since Ms Wedderburn started these proceedings, but this case is still in its infancy.”
He said that the judgment would be “looked at thoroughly”.
Mr Johnston added: “The implications of the ruling will be considered, and whatever steps are deemed most appropriate will be made.”
Juliana Snelling, the lawyer for the health council and Dr Stovell-Washington, its former chairwoman, told the court in September that the health council voted eight to one, with no abstentions, to end Ms Wedderburn’s employment on December 6 last year because of dissatisfaction with her leadership.
She said Dr Stovell-Washington contacted Ms Wilson after the vote was taken. The next day, the pair spoke again before Ms Wilson e-mailed approval of the decision.
Ms Snelling said last week: “The respondents are very pleased with today’s Supreme Court’s judgment, which is consistent with their position all along that the issue of the former CEO’s separation of employment from the council was never amenable to judicial review.”
Charles Richardson, who acted for Mr Burt and Ms Wilson in the hearing last month, said then that Ms Wedderburn should have gone to an employment tribunal, rather than seek a judicial review.
A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Health is satisfied with this outcome, as the case was baseless.
“Likewise, the ministry continues to robustly deny the allegations made by the applicant, which, like the claims disproved by the judgment, are baseless.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Burt, who has “strongly denied” the allegations, said yesterday: “The Supreme Court of Bermuda has found that the remedy of judicial review was not available in this case.
“That is a matter of law. Any party aggrieved of a finding of a court in Bermuda is at liberty to consider an appeal.
“The media is hardly the appropriate forum to try cases.”
• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.
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