By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEYS for Save The Bays have appealed to the acting data protection commissioner to “immediately” investigate the formal complaints the group has made against the Progressive Liberal Party MPs who disclosed the group’s private emails in Parliament.
Ferron Bethel, of Harry B Sands Lobosky & Co, said his clients, which include Save The Bays (STB), attorney Fred Smith, QC, and Zach Bacon, are “sorry to see” that no investigation has taken place regarding the group’s claims against Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald, Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell, and Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller.
Mr Bethel’s concerns, which were contained in an August 19 letter addressed to the acting data protection commissioner, are in reference to a controversy over claims made by Mr Fitzgerald in March that STB is allegedly a political organisation seeking to “overthrow” the Progressive Liberal Party government under the guise of being an environmental group.
In the House of Assembly at the time, Mr Fitzgerald read private emails from STB members and others, which he said bolstered his claims. Mr Fitzgerald later tabled the documents.
In April, Justice Indra Charles granted an injunction to STB that barred parliamentarians from accessing or making public the personal information of the non-profit organisation.
However, Mr Bethel’s statement yesterday said despite the injunction being granted, his clients “remained extremely concerned with the access to and public disclosure of such personnel and private information” and were “additionally troubled by the prospect of any further such disclosures.”
Mr Bethel subsequently said his clients had hoped that its June 15 filing of a “formal complaint” against Mr Fitzgerald, Mr Mitchell, and Mr Miller would have prompted former Data Protection Commissioner Sharmie Farrington-Austin to “investigate, or cause to be investigated at the earlier opportunity” how the three MPs “came to be in possession of our clients’ confidential documents and information, prior to their disclosing of the same in Parliament.”
Mr Bethel also said the group expected that any such investigation “would result in the issuing of an enforcement notice to prevent further breaches of the Data Protection Act” and/or an “information notice to further investigate and allow action to be taken against those possible.”
“We are sorry to see that no such investigation has taken place as of yet and we write to you again, now following the hearing of our constitutional action before Justice Charles between May 18 and 27, 2016, to reiterate our formal complaint in the hope that such investigations and enforcement can now take place,” Mr Bethel said.
Mr Bethel then referred to Justice Charles’ landmark ruling on August 2, in which she declared that Mr Fitzgerald was not legally justified when he tabled STB’s private emails in Parliament, and therefore could not be protected by parliamentary privilege. Mr Fitzgerald was fined $150,000 in damages, permanently banned from disclosure and publication of any further material belonging to STB and was ordered to delete all electronic and hard copy material within 14 days.
Mr Bethel, in his letter, noted the Office of the Attorney General’s indication that it would appeal Justice Charles’ judgment, as well as the stay that was granted pending the appeal. Yesterday, however, Mr Bethel said to date “no appeal has as yet been served on the applicants.”
“In light of the above and the clarity and finality of the findings of Justice Charles as to the breach of our clients’ constitutional rights, we hope that you would immediately exercise your powers as the acting data commissioner and investigate the formal complaints we have reiterated against the above named MPs,” Mr Bethel said.
More than a week ago, House Speaker Dr Kendal Major admitted that he should not have allowed Mr Fitzgerald to read and table the private emails in Parliament. However, Dr Major maintained that he does not believe the judiciary should interfere with matters in Parliament and said “respectfully” the court ought to mind its own business.