Appeal Judge ‘hurt’ by bias allegations


Tribune Business Editor


An Appeal Court judge has been left “embarrassed and hurt” by “spurious” claims of bias that were levelled against him and another justice by two trust companies.

Justice Stanley John hit out at Experta Trust Company (Bahamas) and Belgravia International Bank & Trust Company, and their attorneys, after the Court of Appeal rejected their attempt to use these allegations to overturn a February 26, 2014, judgment that found against them.

The Appeal Court, on that occasion, ruled in favour of CIBC Trust Company (Bahamas) but, dissatisfied with the outcome, the two rival trust “alleged apparent bias” by two of the three justices that rendered the verdict - Justice John and Justice Christopher Blackman.

In Justice John’s case, Experta and Belgravia alleged that he should not have heard the case because his daughter, Amanda John, was employed by CIBC’s attorneys, Lennox Paton.

As for Justice Blackman, the trust companies’ complaint was founded in the fact both he and several family members had former connections with various CIBC entities, including FirstCaribbean International Bank. Experta and Belgravia argued that these should have been disclosed when the appeal was heard.

Justice Blackman, in rejecting the claims against Justice John, pointed out that Lennox Paton only moved to hire the latter’s daughter in December 2013 - some seven months after the case involving Experta and Belgravia had been heard by the Court of Appeal.

And Justice Blackman added that the three-judge panel, which also included Justice Conteh, were unanimous in their decision to find for CIBC.

They reserved their verdict, though, ultimately delivering their verdict on February 26, 2014.

“In the context of the allegation against Justice John, I am of the view that an informed, reasonable and right-minded person, viewing the matter realistically and practically, and having thought the matter through, would conclude that the decision by Lennox Paton to hire Amanda John in late 2013 could not have been a factor for consideration in May 2013 when the hearing of the appeals concluded,” Justice Blackman said.

Justice John, adding to the overall verdict, took a much harder, personal line on the Experta and Belgravia claims.

“The spurious allegations imputed to me in these applications have caused me nothing but embarrassment and hurt, particularly as the judgment sought to be impugned in these applications was heard and determined before my daughter’s engagement with Lennox Paton,” Justice John stormed.

He said his daughter, who was called to the UK bar last year, had been living with him as she underwent her pupilage with Lennox Paton “because of the natural bond that exists between father and daughter”.

Justice John said he had no influence on Lennox Paton’s selection of his daughter for pupilage; did not help her to obtain a work permit; and has no personal relationship with that law firm or any other.

And Lennox Paton’s litigation head, Brian Simms QC, gave evidence that Ms John had to reimburse the firm for her work permit fee via the associate profit sharing programme.

As for Justice Blackman, he ceased to serve as a non-executive director of CIBC West Indies Holdings in 2001. And his sister, who worked for CIBC-related companies in Barbados, had retired more than three years ago.

Pointing out that his son and sister’s employment in Barbados had no connection to CIBC Trust Company (Bahamas), Justice Blackman said that given “the time that has elapsed” between relinquishing his directorship and the judgment, right-thinking people would believe any bias on his part “improbable”.

Justice Conteh, in his contribution to the verdict, added: “There is not a scintilla of truth in their [the trust companies’] allegations or apprehension of bias that would make the informed, reasonable observer with knowledge of all the facts conclude that there was bias or the potential of bias in this case.”

He suggested Experta and Belgravia had sought to “embarrass” the Court of Appeal with unfounded allegations that would have struck “at the very root of the administration of justice” if true.

The legal battle that gave rise to the unfounded ‘bias’ claims stemmed from a June 1996 agreement between CIBC and Belgravia, where they agreed to act as co-trustees of the Bagdonovich Family Trusts. CIBC was to act as managing trustee and administrator for various trusts in the structure.

Differences that emerged between the two co-trustees ultimately led to CIBC’s replacement by Experta in July 2005, and Belgravia commenced legal action against the former for alleged breach of trust and the return of trust assets/monies still in its control.

Although the Supreme Court rejected most of Belgravia’s initial demands, it did grant an Order requiring CIBC to account for all monies and assets it held for the beneficiaries of the Bagdonovich Family Trusts.

Belgravia, though, alleged that CIBC had failed to comply with the Accounting Order - a constant theme of its actions. It attempted to unsuccessfully press contempt proceedings against CIBC, its officers and attorney in the Supreme Court, and was “aggrieved by what it feels is the failure or neglect of the judge to enforce his Accounting Order”.

CIBC, though, in denying Belgravia’s claims alleged that the latter had the responsibility for accounting for the trust assets by virtue of their previous agreements.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Belgravia’s appeal over the Supreme Court’s failure to award it costs, and instead order ‘cause for costs’.

But it overturned a permanent injunction granted against CIBC and its attorneys, and the removal of an affidavit sworn by its general manager, Carlis Chisholm, from the files, finding this was “unsustainable”.

The injunction was set aside and the affidavit returned to the file.

And, making it four wins for CIBC, the Court of Appeal set aside the refusal to allow it to amend its re-amended defence, and upheld the Order granting further discovery.

Belgravia was represented in the ‘bias’ case by Pushpinder Saini QC and Maurice Glinton.


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