Court rejects media gag order in Bermuda

HAMILTON (Reuters) - Bermuda’s media should not be banned from reporting further extracts from a leaked police dossier about corruption at the British territory’s public housing corporation, London’s Privy Council ruled on Monday.

A view of Bermuda in an undated photo. Bermuda's media should not be banned from reporting further extracts from a leaked police dossier about corruption at the British territory's public housing corporation, London's Privy Council ruled on Monday. REUTERS/Bermuda Department of Tourism/Handout

Five law lords said Bermuda’s chief justice and court of appeal acted correctly when they refused to interfere with the freedom of the press.

Bermuda’s Attorney General Philip Perinchief and Police Commissioner George Jackson asked for a media gag earlier this year after a weekly newspaper, the Mid-Ocean News, alleged Premier Ewart Brown, former Premier Jennifer Smith and other cabinet ministers had been investigated in a police probe of allegations of wrongdoing at the Bermuda Housing Corporation.

Police had sought to find out whether Brown pressured the corporation to buy a house from him at an inflated price, according to local media reports.

When the probe ended in 2004, acting Director of Public Prosecutions Kulandra Ratneser said many of those investigated could only be accused of bad ethics, and that some of them had escaped prosecution due to Bermuda’s antiquated corruption laws.

At the Privy Council hearing, Lord Justice Hoffman referred to those comments and said, “He’s quoted as saying it’s unethical but not criminal. If that’s so, surely the public has a right to know if their politicians behaved unethically?”

The Privy Council, which is the top appellate court for Bermuda, also ruled that the government and police commissioner who brought the case should pay the legal costs.

“Today is a good day for freedom of expression in Bermuda and reaffirms the public’s right to know,” said Bill Zuill, editor of The Royal Gazette, which was also a party in the hearing.

There was no immediate comment from Brown, who has also launched a personal legal action to stop publication from the secret police file.

Bermuda called in Scotland Yard to hunt for a mole who leaked the police documents to the media, and three people have been arrested in the ongoing investigation.