Court orders Tempura records kept secret

Hundreds of pages of legal advice, memoranda and other records now in the possession of the former head of a Cayman Islands corruption investigation squad must not be disclosed to any other party, according to a Grand Court ruling made public Thursday.  

The records, some 283 documents, according to the court ruling, held by former Operation Tempura Senior Investigating Officer Martin Bridger are mostly shielded under what is known as “legal advice privilege,” Grand Court Justice Richard Williams ruled in the partially redacted judgment.  

Mr. Justice Williams said that Mr. Bridger, who retired from the Operation Tempura investigation in April 2009, could not be considered the client to whom that legal advice regarding Operation Tempura was delivered after he parted ways with the investigation. 

Mr. Justice Williams’s order states that “[Mr. Bridger] is not to permit any party, including but not limited to, [former Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan] and his attorneys, to inspect or take copies of [the records].” To do so would constitute a criminal offence, the judge said. Mr. Bridger did not return emails and calls seeking comment about the ruling by press time.  

Mr. Kernohan sued the Cayman Islands government in 2009 claiming wrongful dismissal from his post. He has named both Attorney General Sam Bulgin who represents the government in such cases and Mr. Bridger – the former head of the probe that led to Mr. Kernohan’s removal as police commissioner – as defendants in the lawsuit. Former Cayman Governor Stuart Jack and ex-Acting Police Commissioner Jim Smith were also named, but were later dropped as defendants in the proceedings.  

Initially, government defended Mr. Bridger – who was sworn in as a RCIPS officer – in the Kernohan lawsuit. However, following a judgment in early 2011 from Grand Court Justice Charles Quin, Mr. Bridger was left to fend for himself. Mr. Justice Quin’s ruling has never been made public. A Caymanian Compass open records request for that judgment was denied.  

In 2011, Cayman Islands Attorney General Sam Bulgin sued Mr. Bridger seeking to block the release or use of confidential documents related to Tempura that Mr. Bridger had received while he was head of the operation, as well as later on while government attorneys were defending him against the Kernohan lawsuit.  

The attorney general’s application for summary judgment in the case went to the UK courts in 2012 and the Cayman government lost. However, the question of whether Mr. Bridger would have to return the records in his possession was left unresolved. [*]

The wrangling over what documents Mr. Bridger would or would not be allowed to use has contributed to the delay of the process for Mr. Kernohan’s civil claim for the past two years. Mr. Justice Williams largely blamed delays in his writing the judgment on last minute court filings made by Mr. Bridger.  

The Kernohan lawsuit is now expected to go forward, but it was still unclear whether Mr. Bridger – who remains as a defendant – must now turn in the confidential Operation Tempura records he holds or if his inability to use them in his own defense will hamper his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 

Mr. Justice Williams sidestepped that question in Thursday’s judgment. 

“[Mr. Bridger’s attorney] Robert Englehart, Q.C., in his written submissions invited the court … to order that the Kernohan proceedings should not proceed to trial on the basis that…Mr. Bridger could not fairly defend himself,” the judgment reads.  

“If there is any merit in such an application in this case, this is not the time to consider it, especially in the absence of Mr. Kernohan, “ Mr. Justice Williams noted in the judgment.  

 

Tangled web  

Operation Tempura was a two-year, $10 million investigation of alleged corruption within the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.  

It began in August-September 2007, with claims that RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis had improperly funneled sensitive police operational information to former Cayman Net News newspaper publisher Desmond Seales. Mr. Bridger’s investigative team, consisting of current or retired officers from the UK Metropolitan Police, was called in to review the matter after Mr. Kernohan requested outside assistance from the UK.  

Mr. Bridger said his team quickly determined the allegations against Messrs. Seales and Ennis were “nonsense” and then took up an investigation against Mr. Kernohan, former Deputy Police Commissioner Rudolph Dixon and former RCIPS Chief Superintendent John Jones over a covert entry into the offices of Cayman Net News conducted on Sept. 3, 2007.  

Although Mr. Bridger even today claims that “an offence occurred” in relation to that office entry, no one was ever prosecuted. In fact, in reviewing applications for search warrants filed by Mr. Bridger relative to the case, Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled in April 2008 that: “[T]here is no reasonable basis for concluding, on careful application of the law, that [Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan] or Chief Superintendent John Jones committed any criminal offence.”  

Two criminal trials that sprang out of Operation Tempura involved entirely separate allegations against Mr. Dixon and former Cayman Islands MLA Lyndon Martin. Both men were acquitted during their respective trials.  

Mr. Kernohan, who was never charged or arrested for anything, was dismissed from the RCIPS in late 2008 presumedly because he refused to return to the islands on the orders of former Governor Jack.  

An ancillary investigation by Mr. Bridger’s team into Cayman Islands Grand Court Judge Alex Henderson backfired when a visiting judge ruled Mr. Justice Henderson had been wrongfully arrested and ordered a CI $1.275 million award be paid to Mr. Justice Henderson.  

A number of documents held by Mr. Bridger, that Mr. Justice Williams ordered not to be released, related to the arrest of Mr. Justice Henderson. However, Mr. Justice Williams agreed with the attorney general that most of those records were “entirely irrelevant” to Mr. Kernohan’s lawsuit against the government.

[*] Editor’s note: Changed from the earlier version to note that the Cayman Islands government lost its application for summary judgment on the Bridger case.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Let me see if I have this right.

    It would be a breach of Mr Bridger’s human rights to prevent him using material that I have been told was –

    1. Submitted late in the proceedings, almost as an afterthought, and after initial arguments, at which they had not been declared, had been concluded.

    2. Removed from the Cayman Islands without any valid legal authority.

    3. In part, apparently confidential correspondence and notes of the content of telephone conversations between, amongst others, the Attorney General and the Governor to which Mr Bridger had no lawful access.

    That seems to be an interesting slant on human rights.

    I would have thought the main thing this judgment has demonstrated is that the police in the UK, whose attempts to recover these documents has so far been decidedly half-hearted, should stop dragging their heels and start taking a much more robust approach.

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