Premier David Burt announced today that a Commission of Inquiry will be set up to look into historic land grabs in Bermuda by way of a five-member body to pick up on the Motion passed in the House of Assembly in 2014.
Speaking on the floor of the Lower House this morning, Mr Burt said the group will investigate the loss of property through theft, dispossession an other unlawful means.
“Unearthing historic wrongs may be inconvenient for some. It may well be that some of those who were victims and those who committed wrongs have since passed on. But it is never too late for justice,” said the Premier.
The Commission will include a judge, an expert in conveyancing, a land title officer, two lay members and a Secretary to the Commission to provide administrative support.
The selection process has already begun, with a view to bringing further updates before the House rises for the summer recess.
The Motion states:
- “That this Honourable House take note of historic losses in Bermuda of citizens’ property through theft of property, dispossession of property and adverse possession claims; And be it resolved that this Honourable House calls on His Excellency the Governor to establish a Commission of Inquiry into all such known claims and to determine, where possible, the viability of any such claims and make recommendations for any victims of wrongful action to receive compensation and justice.”
“The then Governor refused to establish the Commission of Inquiry and indicated that the UK Government was not disposed to funding such an exercise in any event,” Premier Burt continued.
Under the leadership of then Opposition Leader Marc Bean, the community marched on Government House with some 2,000 people “assembled to protest the then Governor’s decision”.
This demonstrated “a consistently expressed public depth of feeling on these historic issues”, said Premier Burt.
In 2015 the House “approved the Opposition Bill entitled the Commissions of Inquiry Amendment Act”, which gave the Premier the authority to issue commissions of inquiry.
“Honourable Members will also recall the first and so far only use of that authority by the former Premier, the Honourable Member for Constituency 10,” he added.
“It is not forgotten that this authority was not used to appoint a Commission which was passed by resolution of this Honourable House.
“It is never too late for justice,” said the Premier.
“Therefore, I am pleased to advise this Honourable House and the public that I shall establish a five member Commission of Inquiry to fulfil the mandate of this Honourable House as expressed in the Motion passed in 2014.
“Whilst the Terms of Reference continue to be the subject of further consideration, I can advise Honourable Members that, at a minimum they will include inviting the Commission:
- [i] To inquire into historic losses of citizens’ property in Bermuda through theft of property, dispossession of property, adverse possession claims, and/or such other unlawful or irregular means by which land was lost in Bermuda;
- [ii] To collect and collate any and all evidence and information available relating to the nature and extent of such historic losses of citizens’ property;
- [iii] To prepare a list of all land to which such historic losses relate;
- [iv] To identify any persons, whether individuals or bodies corporate, responsible for such historic losses of citizens’ property;
- [v] To refer, as appropriate, matters to the Director of Public Prosecutions for such further action as may be determined necessary by that Office;
“The process of identifying those who will sit on the Commission has now commenced and I will ensure that we assemble the best group to address these issues.
“Additionally, the administrative planning will now start and my hope is to revert to this Honourable House during this Session with further updates on our progress.
“Truth can be uncomfortable.”
But he said: “It is never too late for justice. That justice can take many forms. For some it may simply be the opportunity to be heard and have their claims acknowledged, while for others it may confirm the legal standing they have long asserted. The process of providing justice starts with a step towards truth.”