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Appeal over appearance of bias by judge against ex-PLP MP Michael Scott rejected

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Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden (File photograph)
Michael Scott (File photograph)

The Court of Appeal has rejected a claim that a Supreme Court judge may have appeared to be biased against a former Progressive Labour Party MP and minister because of an earlier corruption investigation.

Michael Scott had called for two rulings by Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden to be quashed because the judge had been the Director of Public Prosecutions when an investigation into public corruption was launched.

The Court of Appeal highlighted that Mr Justice Mussenden had told Mr Scott in a 2018 letter that the investigation had revealed “no criminality or like charges” of corruption against him.

The letter added that the investigation had been closed and no charges would be made against Mr Scott.

Justice of Appeal Geoffrey Bell said, in a decision dated February 25: “I recognise that Mr Scott’s experience as one of the targets of a corruption probe which ran for some time must have been very unpleasant for him.

“But the outcome if the investigation is not irrelevant.

“I have seen nothing in the authorities or elsewhere in the record which would cause me to conclude that the judge should have recused himself on the basis that a reasonable objective and informed person with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably apprehend that the judge would not bring an impartial mind to bear on the adjudication of any case in which Mr Scott appeared as counsel before him from that point forward.”

The Department of Public Prosecutions was named as part of a Joint Investigation and Prosecution Team into allegations of public corruption in a separate ruling by Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams in September 2021 in proceedings launched by Ewart Brown, a former Premier, against the Director of Public Prosecutions and others.

Mr Scott’s appeal was launched after Mr Justice Mussenden ruled against Denise Trew in two cases – one involving HSBC Bermuda and a second that also involved Molly and Stephen White.

Mr Scott represented Ms Trew both cases.

Ms Trew argued in the first case that HSBC had failed to get the best price in the sale of a house left to her by her late husband, Robert Trew.

The Supreme Court heard Mr Trew borrowed $325,000 from the bank in January 1996 using a promissory note and an equitable mortgage on a home on York Street in St George.

Mr Trew died in June 1999 and his will said that Ms Trew should be a life tenant at the St George home, with his executor to pass the house on to their children on her death.

But Ms Trew was warned by lawyers for HSBC soon after Mr Trew’s death that loan payments had become delinquent and the mortgage was foreclosed in December 2017.

Ms Trew launched a legal action against HSBC on the ground that the bank had sold the building for less than it should have and failed in its duties to her.

But Mr Justice Mussenden found that the mortgage – and the property – had been left to the estate of her late husband, represented by an executor, and that Ms Trew was only named a “life tenant” in Mr Trew’s will.

The judge said in a written judgment dated July 28 last year that the bank had discharged its responsibilities to Mr Trew’s estate, and it had no legal duty to Ms Trew.

Ms Trew appealed to the court to stay the repossession of another property in Warwick she also inherited from Mr Trew after she fell behind on loan payments.

She asked for the decision to be held off until the HSBC case had been settled as it could result in her being able to pay what was owed.

Mr Justice Mussenden, however, ruled that he saw no reason why Ms Trew’s application should be allowed.

He said in his judgment last year: “The defendant has no ability to pay any money, any interest or any costs now.

“Further, there is no guarantee to pay of these amounts at a later date.

“The commitment is based purely on the defendant’s belief that she will be successful in the HSBC matter.”

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