1st Court of Appeal president retires

For Justice Edward Zacca, president of the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal since its inception in 1984, Friday was his last day in office.

At a dinner in his honour the previous week, Justice Zacca told over 100 guests he was not retiring by choice. ‘The Governor has determined the age of 75 years as the retirement age of judges,’ he said.

Justice Martin Taylor retired earlier this year for the same reason.

The panel of judges for the appeal court is comprised of four judges, three of whom sit per session. Judges for the Court of Appeal are appointed by the Governor. With the next session of the Court of Appeal scheduled to start on 24 November, no one has been officially announced as Justice Taylor’s replacement or Justice Zacca’s successor.

Cayman’s judicial website describes Justice Zacca as born in Jamaica in 1931, a naturalised British citizen with Caymanian status.

He was called to the Bar in 1954, became a magistrate in 1960, a judge in 1968; a judge of the Court of Appeal in Jamaica in 1975 and its president in 1981.

He continues to serve as president of the Court of Appeal in Bermuda and Turks and Caicos.

Speakers at the dinner on 8 August and at the last courtroom sitting on 14 August paid him tribute. Solicitor General Cheryll Richards noted his knowledge of the law, his sound and fair judgment, analytical mind, ability to get to the heart of a matter and identify central issues.

‘Time was never wasted in a court in which your lordship presided,’ Ms Richards said.

One example of getting to the heart of a matter occurred during the last appeal argued before him. It involved sentencing for the supply of cocaine and attorneys suggested a difference between supplying in a social situation or for profit.

Justice Zacca observed: ‘The damage to the person getting the cocaine remains the same whether the supply is social or commercial.’

When he replied to speeches marking his retirement, he did not waste the chance to let his opinions be known.

He used the occasion of the dinner to make a few suggestions. ‘One, a Code of Conduct should be established for the Judiciary. Two, a Committee of Bench and Bar should be established. This committee could meet from time to time to consider the problems, which affect the administration of justice. The committee could include representatives from the magistrates’ and the Attorney General’s Departments.

‘Three, Bermuda has recently established a Judicial Training Institute. The Cayman judges could benefit by participating in that training institute.’

As Justice Zacca summarised in his retirement speeches, the Jamaican Court of Appeal heard appeals for the Cayman Islands until 1984. Since he has been a member of that court since 1975, he has had a personal association with Cayman’s appeal court for over 33 years. In all those years he never missed one session.

‘We were fortunate to have had experienced judges on the panel and much credit is due to former Governor the late Peter Lloyd for his selection of judges – in my view, one of the most distinguished governors to have been appointed to the Cayman Islands. The retention of the same judges for long periods of time has enabled the Court to be consistent in its decisions,’ he said.

Justice Zacca pointed to Cayman’s reputation as one of the foremost financial services centres, attracting a great deal of off-shore business.

‘Government should be committed to providing the infrastructure and funding to ensure the judiciary can meet all of its requirements, especially in today’s commercial world where the perception of the judiciary’s capacity and competence carries a higher than usual premium. It is fitting that there should be an examination of the relationship between economic growth and our justice system.

‘Simply put, commercial justice and commercial laws are considered very important elements in business competitiveness. Investors compare commercial laws and commercial justice in making decisions regarding investment risks. Investors need to be convinced that there are competent judges and courts to deal with their commercial problems expeditiously.’

Justice Zacca acknowledged that the role of the judges is a challenging one. ‘It is essential that we maintain a strong judiciary. There should be good fellowship and cooperation amongst the judges. The judges must be committed to administering their judicial duties with dignity and integrity.’

He thanked everyone who had helped him perform his duties, including fellow judges, court staff and members of the private and public bar. He paid tribute to attorneys who practise in the criminal courts, especially those who assist by taking legal aid cases.

Justice Zacca thanked the members of the Cayman Islands Law Society and the Caymanian Bar Association for holding the dinner in his honour. Along with his wish for their continued success, he suggested how to obtain it: ‘May you always have the interest of justice at the forefront in fulfilling your obligations.’

Speakers at the dinner included Justice Alexander Henderson on behalf of the Chief Justice; Ms Richards on behalf of the Attorney General; Mr. Orren Merren for the Bar Association and Ramon Alberga QC for the Law Society.

Some of their remarks were enlarged upon at the court’s final sitting.

Ms Richards said under the guidance of Justice Zacca, the foundations have been set ‘for a body of jurisprudence and precedent unique to the circumstances of these Islands on a wide range of legal issues, including the important area of commercial law, which will serve the Islands in the years ahead.

Mr. Alberga predicted that 1984-2008 will be known as the Zacca Years. ‘Your departure from the stage on which you played such a vital role is for me and the Bar a sad event and the end of an era,’ he said.

Justice Ian Forte joked that all the accolades in court had come from attorneys: ‘He looks just as good from this side.’ He pledged to try to set the same high standards Justice Zacca had done and he hoped to write judgments as good as the outgoing president’s.

Justice Elliot Mottley emphasised Justice Zacca’s scholarship and how he personally had benefitted from it. ‘There is still a lot we do not know. We are learning always,’ he said. He hoped to work with Justice Zacca a number of years to come, since they both sit on the Court of Appeal for the Turks and Caicos.

When Justice Zacca replied to this second round of speeches, he said he had been fortunate to work with the best judicial minds in the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.

He said he was happy to have been able to make this contribution to the jurisprudence of the Cayman Islands. He hoped to return for visits – ‘People have always been kind to me’ – but he admitted he was leaving with a heavy heart.