In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a visiting Cayman Islands Grand Court judge on Monday agreed that hundreds of pages of records related to the ill-fated Operation Tempura police corruption investigation should be withheld from public release.
Justice Timothy Owen’s ruling, delivered via Skype inside courtroom 3, marked the culmination of a three-year process to decide whether a 2010 complaint by Tempura’s former senior investigating officer, Martin Bridger, and the Cayman Islands governor’s office’s subsequent evaluation of it should be made public.
In the end, Justice Owen decided that an ongoing criminal investigation targeting Mr. Bridger allowed the governor’s office to withhold those records from release, essentially declaring the governor’s office victorious in its appeal against an earlier order from the information commissioner’s office that sought the release of those records.
Other reasons given by former Governor Duncan Taylor and current Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s office for withholding the records were denied in the judgment released Monday.
According to section 16 [b] of the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law: “Records relating to law enforcement are exempt from disclosure if their disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to … affect [i] the conduct of an investigation or prosecution of a breach or possible breach of the law; or [ii] the trial of any person or the adjudication of a particular case …”
It was revealed in court proceedings last month that Mr. Bridger remained under investigation concerning criminal allegations he made to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service in January 2014.
Those accusations, found to be unwarranted following a review by local police, made various claims against former Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack and Attorney General Samuel Bulgin over their respective roles in the Operation Tempura investigation.
Mr. Bridger’s allegations were supported by Cayman’s former police commissioner and the former chief superintendent of the RCIPS. He has since declined to comment about the issue and did so again on Monday.
In August 2014, RCIPS Commissioner David Baines alluded to the possibility that Mr. Bridger, Tempura’s former commanding officer, could be in some legal trouble over certain statements he made regarding the case, particularly criminal allegations Mr. Bridger made against the territory’s former governor and current attorney general.
“Whilst the criminal allegations made by Mr. Bridger failed, were unsupported and unproved after analysis of all of the available evidence, it is correct to say that his account and publishing of data within the media led to counter allegations of criminal conduct being made in relation to his conduct,” the police statement, attributed to Mr. Baines, read. “Those allegations remain under investigation and are subject to continued inquiry.”
The police service did not specify who made the counter allegations against Mr. Bridger.
However, Justice Owen’s 52-page ruling released Monday did specify criminal allegations against Mr. Bridger via an affidavit filed by former Crown Counsel Douglas Schofield on Dec. 19, 2014.
The affidavit states in paragraph #16: “[Commissioner] Baines has authorized me to advise the court that Bridger is currently being investigated for the following offences (1) misconduct in a public office, contrary to common law, (2) providing false information to a public officer … (3) willfully misleading a police officer … (4) making a false report to a police officer …
“In addition and in connection with the U.K. High Court civil action … Bridger is under investigation for potential criminal charges in either the Cayman Islands or the U.K. relating to (5) theft of police property, (6) handling and/or possession of stolen property, (7) breaches of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act 1998.
“I personally assisted the commissioner of police in the preparation of a file for preliminary review by Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards and I was present at the DPP’s office on Nov. 28, 2014 when the commissioner delivered that file directly into her hands.”
Mr. Bridger has said there would come a time when he would have to be interviewed as part of the RCIPS investigation. “I would be prepared to surrender myself for interview in the Cayman Islands, at a mutually agreed time, because that would then allow me to share some of the evidence which the commissioner has not seen in making his assessment and justify why I originally made the allegation of crime.”
Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said Monday that the exemption referred to under section 16 [b] of Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law typically would apply only until the completion of any criminal investigation and any subsequent trial that might arise. This raises the possibility that, at the end of whatever case local police might pursue against Mr. Bridger, the “law enforcement” exemption would fall away.
“Whether ultimately [the exemption applied] prevents publication of the whole of the governor’s report [or merely identified parts of it] or whether future events wholly undermine the basis for … the exemption are all matters for the information commissioner to reconsider … in light of the full exercise of his investigative powers,” Justice Owen’s ruling stated.
How long an RCIPS probe involving alleged statements by Mr. Bridger might take is unknown. Seven months have passed since Mr. Baines first publicly alluded to the criminal probe, and Mr. Bridger said recently that he was not aware of any charges being filed against him in the case.
It will now be up to the information commissioner’s office, following a further review of the relevant records in conjunction with the governor’s office, to investigate further to determine the status of the ongoing criminal investigation into Mr. Bridger. [*]
The information commissioner also has the right to appeal Justice Owen’s decision. Kyle Broadhurst, acting as attorney for the office, said that option would be considered.
The records in question relate to a 2010 complaint initially filed by the Tempura probe’s former legal adviser, Martin Polaine, which was carried forward later by Mr. Bridger. The complaint, which alleges misconduct by certain Cayman Islands judicial and legal figures involved in the Tempura probe, was dismissed by then-Cayman Islands Governor Taylor, who said the claims in Mr. Bridger’s complaint amounted to defamation. Mr. Taylor used a 185-page evaluation of the complaint, completed by U.K. attorney Ben Aina, to aid in his dismissal of the claim.
Retired Cayman Islands journalist and U.K. citizen John Evans filed an open records request under the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law in February 2012 for both the complaint and the governor’s evaluation of it. The governor’s office denied the request, a decision that was later overturned by the information commissioner.
Mr. Taylor challenged the information commissioner’s decision by way of judicial review. That case, following a first hearing in late 2013 when it was sent back to the information commissioner’s office for further consideration, headed back to court in February 2015.
[*Editor’s note] – Paragraph added for clarity on the court’s ruling.