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No explanation after HRC pulls from suit

Under instructions: lawyer Saul Dismont

The Human Rights Commission withdrew from a legal bid to ensure children’s rights to be represented in court were upheld, without explaining why.

The commission, an independent statutory body charged with promoting and protecting human rights in Bermuda, was the lead plaintiff in the civil case launched against the Government in 2017.

It alleged then that the Government, including the director of the Department of Child and Family Services and the Family Court, had for two decades acted “unlawfully” by failing to ensure children in legal proceedings were provided with an independent advocate, known as a litigation guardian, and a lawyer.

The HRC filed the case on behalf of three unnamed minors, with the support of six charities.

However, a Court of Appeal hearing in March heard that the commission was no longer involved in the lawsuit.

Lawyer Saul Dismont, for the plaintiffs, told the panel of judges that he had been instructed to tell the court that the HRC was pulling out of the matter.

The decision is understood to have dismayed former commissioners, who finished their three-year term of service at the end of December and were replaced with an entirely new board on March 20.

The court ruled on the case yesterday, finding in favour of the plaintiffs.

The panel of three judges, commenting on the HRC’s withdrawal, said: “Given the current absence of state funding for guardians and counsel, children are in fact being denied (and have for some considerable time been denied) effective access to, and participation and representation in, court proceedings that critically affect their lives.”

The charities, Childwatch, Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, the Coalition for the Protection of Children, Family Centre, Scars and the Women’s Resource Centre, who were co-plaintiffs in the matter agreed to press on in the HRC’s absence.

The judges awarded the charities a protective costs order which meant that if they lost they would not have to pay the Government any of its costs.

If they won, they could recover up to $50,000 from the Government for the cost of their appeal.

Government lawyers unsuccessfully objected to the order.

It is not known when or how the decision to withdraw from the legal action was reached by the HRC or who instructed Mr Dismont.

The lawyer declined to comment and several telephone calls and e-mails to Lisa Reed, the HRC’s executive director, went unanswered.

New commission chairman Vaughan Caines declined to comment.

A source said: “There wasn’t a reason given [to the court].”

Along with Mr Caines, the new HRC commissioners are Ed Ball, Alex Potts, Charleda Mahon Gibbons, Cristen Seuss, Kai Musson, James McCulloch, Ravi Pachai, Jessica Steede, Stacey-Lee Williams, Mary Lodge and Rajeev Goonewardene.