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Commission ‘acted unfairly and unlawfully on a number of fronts’, court told

LeYoni Junos (Photograph from fdmbermuda.com)

A commission into land grabs appointed by the Premier “acted unfairly and unlawfully on a number of fronts” and its findings should be overturned, a court heard.

LeYoni Junos told the Supreme Court that she was challenging the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses as a public interest litigant, who was not personally harmed by the proceedings but was acting for the greater good.

The historical researcher, who was hired as an investigator for the commission, claimed that its 500-page report, made public in December, was “flawed and unreliable”.

She said that the document pointed to "systemic procedural unfairness, political bias, important omissions and plain untruths … which taints the entire credibility of the commission and its findings.”

Ms Junos, in her judicial review application to have the report quashed, said that there was a general failure by the commission to fulfil its statutory duties, as well as “misleading statements and untruths” in its report.

The plaintiff, in an affidavit, also raised a “concern of racial bias in the report when it comes to the types and period of historic expropriations of property that were inquired into by the commission”.

She said that the commission — established by David Burt, the Premier, in 2019 to look into historical losses of property and make recommendations on compensation and justice for any victims of wrongful action — chose to look at land grabs in Tucker’s Town and St David’s Island which represented “in the main, losses of land of persons of colour”.

Ms Junos added: “By comparison, the commission elected not to inquire into the historic losses of land in the mid-1800s via expropriation to the British War Department, which in the main were losses of land by white persons.

“ … By choosing not to inquire into all expropriations — not just those that mainly affected people of colour — the commission not only failed to fulfil their remit, but failed to address racial perceptions in the community that blacks were treated less fairly than whites in compensation and due process during expropriations.”

The civil proceedings were brought by Ms Junos against the Premier and the CoI, with both respondents defending the legal action.

Ms Junos claimed that the commission failed to notify people implicated in its proceedings; wrongly allowed former Cabinet minister Wayne Perinchief, the commission’s deputy chairman, to preside over hearings as acting chairman; and should not have decided on its own scope of inquiry.

At a hearing last Thursday to determine if the application can proceed, she was questioned by Assistant Justice Hugh Southey on whether she had appropriate “standing” to submit her claim.

Ms Junos, an historical researcher and member of the Civil Justice Advocacy Group, said the group had campaigned for justice for victims of land appropriation for the best part of a decade and Mr Burt referred to its efforts when he announced the appointment of the commission in June 2019.

“One of the most powerful indications that we have a public interest in these issues of land grabs and persons being dispossessed of property was recognised by the Premier himself,” said Ms Junos, who was representing herself.

She added: “We were surprised that he actually recognised us in his ministerial statement but he did.

“I think I can safely say that this may be the only group in Bermuda which assists persons with dispossessions of property.”

Ms Junos, a former director of the Bermuda chapter of Amnesty International and former human rights commissioner, said she had not just “popped up on the calendar” to seek a judicial review.

“I have had real concerns as an advocate in the community for years,” she said. “I have contributed a lot to the community in human rights and advocacy work.

“I have raised concerns at times to the detriment of my own financial and job opportunities but that’s who I am.”

She said several people dissatisfied by how their cases were handled by the commission approached CJAG for help as they were not in a position to bring legal proceedings themselves.

Delroy Duncan, for the CoI, said his clients reserved their right to respond fully if the case went to a judicial review and that he would take instructions on whether they would seek an injunction for a potential “breach of confidence” by Ms Junos.

Mr Justice Southey reserved judgment on whether to allow the case to proceed.

As reported by The Royal Gazettelast week, Ms Junos has claimed that the commission terminated her contract and failed to pay her after she raised concerns about its practices.

She made a “whistleblower” complaint to police under the Good Governance Act but prosecutors said it was a civil, not criminal matter.