An email sent to Withers LLP, the Attorney General’s (AG) legal team representing government in the Commission of Inquiry (COI), was left unanswered to for weeks, prompting Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom to label the behaviour as discourteous.
Sir Gary indicated that the lack of response has now forced him to make adjustments to his timetable and how he was going to deal with matters related to the government’s Assistance Grant Programme.
“On the 21st of September, two weeks ago, I wrote to the Attorney General, as the Attorney General, not as the representative of the elected ministers, asking for her assistance, if she wished to give it, in respect to legal matters which have arisen in respect of the Assistance Grant Programme,” Sir Gary said.
According to Sir Gary, a response did not come from the AG until he had enquired recently as to whether one would be forthcoming.
He said the response was unhelpful and said these matters likely would have required some level of legal submissions.
The Commissioner expressed regret that there was no one out of the Attorney General’s “large team, including the IRU (Inquiry Response Unit),” who could make any oral submissions in the matter.
“More worryingly, the fact that the Attorney and the IRU have kept this course secret until minutes before the 4 pm deadline after the two weeks’ notice I have given is, at the very least, discourteous,” Sir Gary said.
No discourtesy, AG’s team just overwhelmed with work
But attorney Martha Eker-Male, who represented the AG during the hearing, attempted to defend the late response, assuring the Commissioner that there was no intention to be discourteous.
“I do wish to assure you that there was no attempt at discourtesy on behalf of the IRU or the Attorney General. There has just been simply a huge amount of work to do this week, as I’m sure you and your team are finding as well. And I will, of course, convey your directions to the team,” Eker-Male said.
But Sir Gary did not appear to take this response as being sufficient.
“No matter how heavy the workload—and as you say we’re dealing with a workload as heavy as anyone–that does not explain why this e-mail which sets out the various reasons why we’re not getting submissions, why that message could not have been given earlier in which case, I may have been able to make further directions. The fact that it’s so late simply means that that opportunity has been lost.”
In the absence of any substantive response from the AG, the Commissioner said he no longer had to consider whether any submissions needed to be taken into consideration.
“That will leave me in this position, that in relation to Assistance Grants, there are matters of law arising, and I will deal with those matters of law the best I can. But, unfortunately, without the assistance of the Attorney General. That, I think, is very unfortunate, but that is the way in which I propose to proceed, given the way in which the matter has been dealt with and responded to by the Attorney,” Sir Gary said.
The government has been consistently criticized for what the COI describes as poor and sometimes disorganised responses to document requests. However, the government has argued that the requests have been overwhelming given it’s limited human resources and COVID-19 constraints being faced.
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