The London-based Privy Council has ruled in favour of former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell in the case in which he claimed bias on the part of Commissioner of the Ottley Hall Commission of Inquiry, retired high court judge Ephraim Georges.

The case was heard in London on Nov. 17, and, in a 19-page judgement handed down on Thursday, the Privy Council said that Georges’ Interim Report on the Ottley Hall Marina Project “contains far too many firm statements of the misbehaviour of the appellant”.

The Privy Council, which is the final court of appeal in the case, has ordered that Georges take no further part in the inquiry, an effort of the Ralph Gonsalves government to find out if there were any wrongdoing at the project, which was constructed when Sir James was Prime Minister.

“The extracts from the Interim Report set out above strongly support the conclusion that, having regard to the context and all the surrounding circumstances, the fair-minded observer would conclude that there is a real possibility that the respondent had made up his mind by the date of the Interim Report that the appellant was at the heart of the wrongdoing which led to the Project and its collapse and would not be willing to change his mind, so that his final report would not be impartial,” the Privy Council ruled.

“In these circumstances the Board will humbly advise Her Majesty that the appeal should be allowed. The parties should make written submissions on the appropriate form of order and on costs within 21 days of this judgment being handed down,” the judgement said.

The Privy Council said the provisional view of the Board is that, in addition to an order that the appeal be allowed, the only other order which it would be appropriate to make (apart from costs) is a direction that the respondent should take no further part in the Commission.

“As to costs, it is the provisional view of the Board that the respondent should pay the appellant’s costs before the Board and in the courts below,” the Privy Council said in the judgement.

The Ottley Hall development project began in the 1990s when Sir James was prime minister and minister of finance under the New Democratic Party administration.

The project was a disaster and funds ran out with the development unfinished. It was later determined that the value of the work was lower than the amount of money that the government said it had spent on the project.

The Gonsalves Unity Labour Party government, which came to office on March 28, 2001, set up a commission of inquiry in April 2003, and Governor-General Sir Frederick Ballantyne appointed Georges to lead an inquiry into the failure of the project.

Clause 13 of the terms of reference required Georges to immediately report anything that may show a criminal act, a bribe or fraudulent behaviour.

Georges produced an interim report pursuant to clause 13. The report included a number of adverse findings about Sir James.

Sir James was granted leave for judicial review in relation to the statements made in the report.

The judge held that a fair-minded observer would not conclude from the contents of the report that there was a real possibility of bias and the application was dismissed.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Sir James’ appeal and held that the test was whether Georges had closed his mind and demonstrated irreversible prejudgment and prejudice.

Sir James then appealed to the Privy Council.

Sir James, third from right, and his legal team in London on Nov. 17, including his daughter, Louise Mitchell-Joseph, second from right.
Sir James, third from right, and his legal team in London on Nov. 17, including his daughter, Louise Mitchell-Joseph, second from right.

Ahead of the hearing on Nov. 17, Sir James outlined his legal argument, saying, “My case before the Privy Council is this. … the Ottley Hall Commissioner, Mr George’s wrote a report, sent it to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the governor general and some of the media without ever seeing me or interviewing me.”

Sir James said that when the Inquiry started, the Commission wrote to him, asking whether he would share with the inquiry any information he had.

He said he responded, saying that he was willing to cooperate with the commission of inquiry, that all the documentation was at the Prime Minister’s Office, and if the commission wanted any information from him, to tell him what it wants and he would reply within two weeks.

He claimed “apparent bias, which would appear to the ordinary citizen if you pass judgement on that person without hearing them, without seeing them; bias in terms of the language in the report — you can’t just excuse yourself and say this is the comment of somebody else. The moment you put it in writing, it is your submission; and then improperly judicial proceedings”.

5 replies on “Former PM Sir James wins at Privy Council”

  1. A hollow victory if there ever was one. Sir James’ reputation remains in tatters over the Ottley Hall fiasco. Hopefully, the truth with come out one of these days.

  2. Good for you. Gonsalves just wasted taxpayers money pursuing an inquiry which was for the sole purpose of tarnishing the image of Mitchie…the Ottley Hall project was indeed a dotish project; but to say Mitchie, committed some sort of crime and to prove it in a court of law, was always stretching it a bit too far.

    OK. I hope this is the last we hear anything from Mitchell…you have made your contribution to the development of SVG and its people…Thank you, The Honorable Sir James Mitchell.

    Now, please, sit down.

  3. Dear Sir James, just a reminder because I am sure you understand the way things now work in SVG under the ULP Monster Marxist Party.

    Regardless of whatever awards you are made for cost’s or otherwise, you will never get paid, you can of course always go back to Papa and beg. You will have to crawl on your hands and knees. Even then there must be some doubt about getting paid, in case no one has told you the government is skint, broke, bankrupt. Therefore even if you crawl into Gonsalves darkest places you could well be unlucky.

    Therefore Son, unless you can get an agreement of reciprocity, what I suggest is you stop all your antics of what some see as creeping and helping Gonsalves and get back on course and support and help the NDP, and stop being what some interpret as spiteful to Eustace. Because it may well be that your only chance of being paid any time soon is if Eustace gets elected.

    Son I cannot help but say that you have proved a great disappointment to me and many other Vincentians in what is seen as giving copies of battle plans to the enemy. I hope that in my mind you can be vindicated by doing the right thing in the future.

    Unfortunately with politics its the most recent actions by politicians and public figure that the public most remember.

    Those that know you well know that you never had anything to do with corruption during the Ottley Hall Project.

    Well Sir James, may I wish you a very merry Christmas and happy New Year.

    Best wishes from me

    Peter

  4. The government never wanted to find anything. The investigation was used and is still used as means to fatten party hacks under the guise of being paid to investigate, the longer they investigated the better so you can see the danger there. We will never know what happened now, but I would have like Sir James to see the inside of a cell if he did any wrong doing. Oh well can’t win them all, at least we know for sure some people in this government are not going to be that lucky.

  5. Now that the Privy Council has handed down judgment in favour of Sir James, the Ralph Gonsalves Administration has been order to pay cost at all three judicial levels not only for Sir James but also for the Gov’t’s lawyers. Now you would think that this would be of serious concern to Ralph Gonsalves. No! It isn’t a big deal to him because the money is not coming out of his pocket. It is the taxpayers who have to fork out the kind of money just to satisfy Gonsalves’ ego. Having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on commission of inquiry what is the result? More financial hardship for the Vincentian people. This is pathetic!

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