Group calls on Governor to take action over three-year delay in hearing grievance
A pressure group challenging the legitimacy of a committee set up to handle complaints about judges has called on the Governor to convene a “properly constituted tribunal” to hear its grievance.
The Civil Justice Advocacy Group claims Chief Justice Narinder Hargun and Supreme Court Registrar Alexandra Domingues have for more than three years ignored an application it filed for leave to seek a judicial review.
The judicial review was aimed at overturning a decision by John Rankin, the former governor, to refer a complaint about Mr Justice Hargun’s conduct to the Judicial and Legal Services Committee — an appointed board with no statutory powers.
The group, in an open letter sent to Rena Lalgie, Mr Rankin’s successor, said it filed the civil proceedings against the Governor on May 17, 2019 but that it “was met with absolute silence from the judiciary — that is, there was, and has been to date, no communication from the Registrar as to the granting or refusal of leave for this application”.
LeYoni Junos, from CJAG, wrote that the matter had still not been recorded fully in the Supreme Court causes book — where all civil cases are logged for public scrutiny — and that a request by her to view the case file in December 2021 had been ignored.
She wrote: “The Civil Justice Advocacy Group now respectfully calls on Your Excellency to take decisive action to address, under the appropriate sections of the Bermuda Constitution, whether the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court Registrar should be removed from their respective offices for obstructing a duly filed judicial review — one in which Government House itself is named as the respondent.
“It goes without saying that under the circumstances and background to this complaint, it would be most inappropriate for Your Excellency to refer this matter to the JLSC or any of its members for investigation, or to restrict the investigation to an unconstitutional ‘protocol’.”
Ms Junos added: “We would be most willing to provide any and all further evidence to a properly constituted tribunal and we look forward to your earliest attention to this matter.”
A Government House spokeswoman said the letter had been received. She noted that it “contained serious allegations” and confirmed that it was “being given due consideration”.
Ms Domingues, on behalf of the Chief Justice, said it was the court’s policy not to comment on court cases.
February 4, 2019: The Civil Justice Advocacy Group makes a complaint to John Rankin, then the Governor, asking for an investigation into the behaviour of Chief Justice Narinder Hargun.
February 15, 2019: Government House responds to say the complaint has to be resubmitted to the Judicial and Legal Services Committee in accordance with the committee’s “complaints protocol”.
May 17, 2019: CJAG files an application for leave to seek a judicial review in the Supreme Court. The group seeks a declaration from the court that the JLSC is an unconstitutional body with no statutory existence and no legal authority to vet, investigate or hear complaints against judges and/or the judiciary, as well as an order requiring the Governor to appoint a tribunal to hear the complaint about Mr Justice Hargun.
February 14, 2020: The Chief Justice tells a special sitting of the Supreme Court at the opening of the legal year that the “standing” of the JLSC requires “attention”. He notes that it lacks any statutory basis and says that point had “been taken in recent judicial review proceedings”. Mr Justice Hargun says: “It is clearly important that this issue be resolved, and I would urge that the existence and authority of the JLSC should be underpinned with statutory basis.”
December 24, 2021: CJAG asks to view the case file for the judicial review matter but has yet to receive a response from the Supreme Court.
The JLSC was set up in 2013 by George Fergusson, the former governor, to provide advice on constitutional responsibilities relating to the judiciary.
At the time, he made public a protocol setting out the procedure the committee would follow for dealing with judicial complaints.
Last December, Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner, ordered Government House to release to a public access to information requester part of a record which raised “questions about the procedures” used by the JLSC.
Ms Gutierrez said the protocol was established to “ensure transparent and formal procedures for complaints against judges”.
She said one specific record raised “broader questions about the procedures in the protocol” and disclosure would be in the public interest.
The JLSC is chaired by Sir Christopher Clarke, the president of Bermuda’s Court of Appeal. The other members are Mr Hargun; Bermuda Bar Association president George Jones; David Jenkins, former chief justice of Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal in Canada; Caribbean Court of Justice judge Adrian Saunders; former ombudsman Arlene Brock; charity head Martha Dismont; and former independent senator James Jardine.