An incident occurred outside court last Tuesday that led to the question of whether Justice Priya Levers should remove herself from an ongoing rape trial.
The matter was aired in closed court and the judge declined to recuse herself.
‘Let me assure the public I do not get intimidated easily, nor am I frightened of death. If it comes, it comes. If harm comes, it comes. I do not feel I am in danger,’ Justice Levers said.
Exactly what happened was not detailed in court, but it led to concern that intimidation could be seen as affecting the judge’s ability to remain impartial.
Before court began, the judge privately informed Crown Counsel Elisabeth Lees and Defence Attorney Phillip McGhee of the incident, which occurred outside the courtroom involving a man and woman and words said by the woman.
As a result, when proceedings began, Justice Levers directed that the court be cleared. Ms Lees than made an application for the judge to discharge herself from the trial.
She did so on the basis that the judge had told her and Mr. McGhee that initially she had felt intimidated and was of the opinion she would have to recuse herself. The judge also told them she wanted to speak to the person who had said the words.
Justice Levers made it clear that the incident had nothing whatsoever to do with the accused man or the complainant. It involved someone who had come to support the complainant.
The judge said Ms Lees did not need to repeat the words said to her. She added that she had reported the matter to the relevant authorities.
The guideline is if a judge becomes aware of any matter that could arguably be said to give rise to a real danger of bias, it is generally desirable that it be disclosed to the prosecution and defence, as Justice Levers did that morning, before there is any formal hearing on the matter.
If any party objects to the judge’s continuing in the case, it is then the judge’s duty to consider the application and exercise her judgment.
In citing case law, Ms Lees said it would be wrong to give way to any frivolous objection, but it would also be wrong to ignore an objection of substance. If there is a real ground for doubt, that doubt should be resolved in favour of recusal.
Justice Levers said she had considered the matter very carefully and did not intend to recuse herself. ‘My duty to the court and to my reputation is such that I will go on in the most professional way I have always done.
‘There is no question of bias for either side,’ she added. ‘I do not blame the complainant nor do I blame the defendant.’
The trial was completed later that day when a jury found Craig Damian Dilbert guilty. The following day Justice Levers sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.