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Brock: CoH lawsuit threatens existence of Ombudsman

Ombudsman for Bermuda Arlene Brock believes a lawsuit against her by the Corporation of Hamilton potentially threatens the existence of her office in Bermuda.

Appearing in the Supreme Court before Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman, who is debating whether to allow the Corporation to apply for a judicial review of her investigation into the City's governance, Ms Brock said: “This is really unprecedented — this is a major, major case that determines whether the Ombudsman survives in this country.”

Ms Brock was yesterday given leave to continue with her investigation into the City's handling of a deal to redevelop Hamilton's waterfront — but so far isn't allowed to formally release her findings.

The development deal came under scrutiny by the Ombudsman earlier this year.

Represented by lawyer Eugene Johnston, Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge and Deputy Mayor Donal Smith appeared in court with other members of their administration, seeking to challenge the Ombudsman's reasoning behind the investigation.

Mr Justice Hellman told both sides he had no problem deferring leave for the City to apply for judicial review.

“The difficulty is preserving status quo,” he added, saying that in the meantime he would have to order that Ms Brock's report not be published.

Ms Brock said she would respect the court's decision but said she would need to discuss with counsel “the global implications of setting that precedent”.

She said the outcome of the case would not go unnoticed elsewhere in the world.

Mr Johnston said the City's challenge to the Ombudsman's investigation sought to stop the report from being shared with anyone.

“It's our position that the report should not even be given to us,” he said. “A finished report, once it gets to us, has to be acted upon.

Mr Justice Hellman said he wasn't prepared to stay Ms Brock's investigation, however.

“I'm not asking you to,” Mr Johnston responded. “We're just trying to make sure that the actual report is not disseminated.”

In the City's November 8 writ against Ms Brock, the complainants cite the Ombudsman's decision to conduct an investigation “in a particular manner”.

Ms Brock initially launched her exploration of the Hamilton Waterfront Redevelopment Project in the public's interest.

The project was secretly negotiated by the City with Allied Development Partners last year, causing Ms Brock to look into governance under Mr Outerbridge's administration.

Although City Hall initially indicated its approval of the case, both Mr Outerbridge and Mr Smith were later found to be in contempt of court for refusing to answer Ms Brock's questions.

Asked last night to clarify the City's stance, Mr Johnston said the application was about “the efficacy of her investigative process, and her decision to conduct an own motion into the Corporation”.

An “own motion” allows the Ombudsman to investigate even where no specific complaint has been issued.

Mr Johnston told The Royal Gazette: “We are saying that the purposes for which she was supposed to act under the Ombudsman's Act is being infringed or violated. We're saying the way she conducted the investigation is flawed.”

He added: “You can't conduct an investigation with an eye to publishing it in Parliament.

“It should be with an eye on improving the efficiency of the organisation in question.”

Ombudsman: Arlene Brock

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Published November 19, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 19, 2013 at 10:35 am)

Brock: CoH lawsuit threatens existence of Ombudsman

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