City may appeal after losing legal battle against Government
The Corporation of Hamilton has lost a legal fight against legislation that would end municipal elections in favour of appointed leadership.
While the municipality had argued the Municipalities Amendment Act 2019 was unconstitutional because it amounted to a deprivation of property, Chief Justice Narinder Hargun rejected the claims in a judgment yesterday.
Mr Justice Hargun found that Government claiming management control over the Corporation did not amount to deprivation of property and the Corporation’s constitutional claim could not succeed.
He added: “In these proceedings the Corporation has charged the Government that its legislative proposals concerning the municipal corporations are irrational, arbitrary and unfair.
“The Court reminds itself that its jurisdiction in relation to Acts of Parliament and proposed legislation is limited to consider whether legislation infringes fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the Bermuda Constitution.
“Beyond that, the merits of any legislation belonging to the realms of politics are not the proper subject matter of judicial determinations.”
The municipalities legislation – approved in the House of Assembly but rejected by the Senate – would have done away with municipal elections in favour of appointed councillors and mayors for both the City of Hamilton and the Town of St George.
The Corporation of Hamilton argued the Bill would grant Government “overwhelming” control of the municipalities and their properties.
But the Government argued the municipalities would retain control of their properties as quangos and the legislation would improve cooperation between the Corporations and the Government.
Mr Justice Hargun found that the Government claiming control - even total control - of the municipalities would not amount to depriving the Corporations of property.
He said: “The Corporation as a legal entity continues to own the assets as before and there is no suggestion that there has been any diminution of their value.”
Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said yesterday he was disappointed by the ruling, but that it was “not entirely unexpected”.
“Respectfully, despite the ruling, our legal advice has not changed and we have not been dissuaded or discouraged from our position,” Mr Gosling said.
“We will use every legal option at our disposal to protect our democratically elected system. We have met with our lawyers and we believe that there are a number of grounds on which we could launch an appeal.
“Our lawyers and internal team are in the process of reviewing the judgment.”
He added: “The Corporation has a legacy of success when it comes to running Hamilton’s affairs and we stand firm with our position.”
The Municipalities Act 2019 was approved by the House of Assembly, but rejected by the Senate after independent and Opposition senators voted against it, although that only delayed its implementation.
The legislation was designed to turn the Corporations of Hamilton and St George into quangos.
The minister would appoint the mayors and half of the councillors and the other councillors would be appointed by the minister on the recommendation of a selection committee.
The selection committee would be made up of three people, also appointed by the minister, who “reside, do business or work in the municipal area of the Corporation”.