Premier Michael Dunkley at the ceremony to confirm Trevor Moniz as the new Attorney General. *File photo
Premier Michael Dunkley at the ceremony to confirm Trevor Moniz as the new Attorney General. *File photo

Attorney General Trevor Moniz is appealing a recent judicial decision that could allow for long-term residents of the island to be granted Bermudian citizenship.

A May ruling by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ian Kawaley is allowing two permanent residents’ certificate (PRC) holders, who have lived on the island on or before July 31, 1989, to be granted full Bermudian citizenship.

Mr Moniz announced late yesterday afternoon he would be appealing the judgment.

Essentially, the piece of legislation that established PRC holders created a legal loophole allowing them a path to citizenship. The provision did not come to light and a previous administration did not grasp the fact that legal amendments made in 1994 would have an effect on the introduction of PRC legislation in 2001.

The Chief Immigration Officer has reported the Department has been inundated with applications for persons seeking status as a result of the May ruling, said Mr Moniz. 

Legal loophole

Of that group, 115 have been naturalized with a further estimated 1,340 possibly eligible to make such an application, according to Mr Moniz. The term “naturalized” in Bermuda refers to the process of becoming a British subject, not full Bermudian status. 

Thanks to the loophole, if a PRC holder submits applications for naturalization and full Bermudian status at the same time under a specific section of law, and the Home Affairs Minister supports the naturalization application which is subsequently approved by the governor, the minister must, except in certain instances set out in the legislation, grant the applicant Bermudian status.

“Notwithstanding the anomaly in the legislation, the ministry has sought the advice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers as well as a Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom on the merits of appealing the Supreme Court judgment,” said Mr Moniz through a press statement.

He continued, “Whilst the advice received following an exhaustive review of this judgment by the aforementioned counsel was not entirely favourable as far as the judgment being successfully overturned, the ministry has nonetheless filed an appeal in this matter to the Court of Appeal, which will allow the opportunity for further government review of the matter.”

Earlier in the week, Mr Moniz says he was unsure if the decision will necessarily open the door to all 1,300 plus PRC holders on the island who are in similar situations.

“I don’t know that it does. There was an assumption that it would, but I’m not sure it does,” he said on Wednesday.

At that time, asked on Wednesday if the matter was a done deal, Mr Moniz replied, “I don’t have the answer to that. What it looks like at the moment is that an appeal is unlikely.”

Much can change in 24 hours, apparently. The following day, the appeal was announced. Today marked the last day the government could have appealed.

It will be welcome news to the Opposition PLP. Shadow Minister for Immigration and Home Affairs Walton Brown earlier in the week had called for a suspension of all immigration applications seeking Bermudian status. He referred to the May ruling as an example of “legislating from the bench” and said the judgment represented a “piecemeal” approach to immigration reform when something more holistic was needed.

According to Mr. Moniz, if someone wishes to be naturalized, they apply to the governor, who then asks the Minister of Home Affairs whether he supports the application and whether the person met all the necessary conditions. By law, he said, one of those conditions is that the applicant be preapproved for status, but since there are no more grants of discretionary status, there is a gray area in the law.

‘We have obligations’

“It’s a complex area because a lot of changes (to the law) have taken place over the years,” he said. 

Mr Moniz said he has supported affording rights of full Bermudian citizenship to long-term residents of the island.

“We have obligations to these people…it would be wrong to do otherwise,” he said recently. 

On Wednesday, Mr Moniz said the PLP are “playing games with the issue”.

“That’s all they’re doing. They’re saying we’ll deal with it at some undefined time in the future.”

He added, “The PLP have said we’ll deal with that when Bermuda goes independent but Bermuda is not going independent. There’s never been majority support for independence. The PLP desire independence, but there’s never been a majority support for it.”

He said the political ramifications of granting PRC holders Bermudian citizenship have been overblown.

“Most constituencies tend to be relatively safe on one side or the other. If you have those people spread out across 36 constituencies, how much effect is it going to have?”

He denied the additional voters would necessarily benefit the OBA. 

“In 1998 there were suggestions the Portuguese Bermudian vote to some degree went to the PLP, so it’s not quite as simple a calculus as people suggest,” he said.

Later, he added, “Bermuda has to get past this racial profiling: ‘Oh, you’re white, you’re  going to vote OBA.’ Now you have much more diversity in Bermuda and the young people are beyond all the nonsense.” 

Moniz on the issues

His priorities as AG:

I’m not sure I can answer that yet. Your feet hit the ground and you’re already running. 

I think people know I have a different style than my predecessor. I’m understated. I’m policy driven and details driven. I like to get down into the weeds.

I don’t get siloed in that I’m very interested in the ministries and what they’re doing and how they’re affecting things.

My legal background has a very broad base. I have a very broad base in politics as well. The public works, environment and health ministries. 

I’m not in some ivory tower issuing opinions of things that I have no idea of how they work on the ground.

Is there any political will for an overhaul to campaign finance law in Bermuda?

I don’t know the answer to that. That’s an issue bigger than the AG’s office. As you say, it requires political will. I think it might need bipartisan political will. I’m not sure it’s something the OBA can force through.

You obviously want to keep an eye on people who are attempting to buy influence.

The problems both parties face, if there’s a huge amount of transparency, there’s some people who give (money) to both, but don’t want one (party) to know they have given to the other.”

Could JetGate have been avoided if there was a campaign finance law that showed who received what money and how it was spent?

Who knows? It’s a hypothetical at this point.

Any indication of when the results of the OBA internal investigation into the money given to the Bermuda Political Action Club will be made public?

You’d have to go back to the party chairman. I’m not in the executive of the party, so I’m not involved with that.

Has the OBA fully healed from the fallout of the JetGate controversy?

I think we’re a cohesive group and we’re moving forward in a positive direction.

On the government’s main challenge:

The difficulty you face as a government, you come in and the government is facing a huge national debt. There’s a budget deficit, so you’re spending more money than you’re bringing in. The economy is in the doldrums. You’re trying to turn the economy around. You can’t use government stimulus because the government has no money and a huge debt and a deficit so you’re trying to use policies to attract business to stimulate the economy.

Business wants to be freed up, they want less rules and regulations, less red tape. The PLP says we’re being nice to business, well, we’re trying to create more jobs. 

That’s a story we need to keep telling. We need to get the confidence of the business community in Bermuda so they stimulate the economy and create jobs. People have to stop thinking the government can be all things to all people.