Embattled judge welcomes tribunal

Grand Court Justice Priya Levers has welcomed the establishment of a judicial tribunal to look into complaints made against her, vowing to defend herself to the fullest extent of the law.

On Tuesday, Governor Stuart Jack announced he had suspended Justice Levers from the Grand Court bench, capping months of speculation about the judge’s position.

‘Madame Justice Levers welcomes the inquiry and the appointment of Sir Andrew Leggatt as its Chairman,’ said Attorney Anthony Akiwumi, who is heading up the legal team representing the judge.

‘She denies any of the misbehaviour alleged and, with the assistance of her experienced legal team, intends to vigorously defend all the allegations made against her to the fullest extent permissible by the law.’

At press time Thursday, the Governor was yet to publicly outline the nature of the complaints against the judge or state the terms of reference for the tribunal, but Mr. Akiwumi said its defined scope ‘completely exonerates Madame Justice Levers from any financial impropriety or irregularity previously and erroneously implied by earlier media reports.’

The judge has previously described as ‘an absolute untruth’, a 22 July on-air claim by Rooster 101.9FM host Ellio Solomon that he understood a Grand Court justice had been suspended after suspect documents were found in the justice’s car.

Mr. Solomon’s claim heightened speculation about the judge’s position, which had been the subject of rumour since mid-July.

That speculation forced Chief Justice Anthony Smellie to issue a one-line statement on 23 July in which he said, ‘The reports that Justice Levers have been suspended are incorrect. They judge is presently away on leave.’

Justice Levers has not appeared in court for almost two months and has been listed as writing judgements on Grand Court schedules since 11 August.

Uncharted waters

Mr. Jack’s decision to appoint the Judicial Tribunal – the legal mechanism marked out in the Constitution for considering whether a judge should be removed – sets the Cayman Islands off into what legal observers concede are uncharted waters.

No judge in the Cayman Islands has ever been called before such a body and there are only a handful of examples of judicial tribunals being formed throughout the Commonwealth.

A spokesperson for Mr. Jack said Tuesday details such as the tribunal’s terms of reference, whether it will be held in public and who else will sit on the body will all be answered in due course.

The most recent example in the British Caribbean of a judicial tribunal was in Trinidad and Tobago last year, when the country’s Chief Justice, Satnarine Sharma, was called to answer allegations he tried to pervert the course of public justice.

Mr. Sharma was accused – but ultimately exonerated – of trying to influence a magistrate’s verdict in the trial of former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who was standing trial for failing to declare a London bank account while in office.

Like the one planned for Cayman, the judicial tribunal in Trinidad and Tobago was tasked with making a recommendation to the Governor on whether there were sufficient grounds for referring the question of the judge’s removal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

After nine days of public hearings in Chief Justice Sharma’s case, the tribunal found no evidence to impeach the judge.

Across the Atlantic, the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar has also been rocked this year by the appointment of a judicial tribunal that critics have decried as politically motivated.

Among the claims against Gibraltar Chief Justice Derek Schofield are a minor motoring offence, complaints that his wife was too outspoken and reluctance by Mr. Schofield to meet the country’s chief minister on his Christmas visits to the courthouse.

The Cayman Islands Constitution says a judicial tribunal appointed to investigate a judge should have a chairman and at least two other judges or former judges but provides little guidance on rules and procedures for the body.

Mr. Leggatt, who will chair the tribunal, is a retired UK Lord Justice of Appeal.

Ms Levers

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