Cayman Islands taxpayers will have to pay another hefty legal bill for a Grand Court judge.
In a preliminary ruling, the Judicial Tribunal that will hear allegations of misbehaviour against suspended Justice Priya Levers has ordered the Government pay the judge’s legal costs.
Governor Stuart Jack – who in September decided to suspend the judge and have her face the Judicial Tribunal – had opposed the judge’s legal costs being paid out of public funds.
But he was rebuffed by the tribunal’s three judges, whose 15 January ruling warned that the tribunal would be unable to proceed unless Mr. Jack agreed to indemnify Madam Justice Levers’ legal costs.
Taxpayers are already facing a costly legal bill and a possible seven-figure damages payout over the UK Metropolitan Police’s bungled arrest of Grand Court Justice Alexander Henderson in September, which was later ruled unlawful.
Lawyers representing Justice Levers this week warned the eventual bill for the judge’s defence will be substantial.
Justice Levers has engaged two QCs from Blackstone Chambers, the UK’s leading chambers for Constitutional and Commercial Law matters. QCs Stanley Brodie and James Eadie are being instructed locally by Stuarts Walkers Hersants’ head litigator Anthony Akiwumi and local attorney Waide DaCosta.
The wrangling over who should pay the judge’s legal bills has again delayed the commencement date of the tribunal. Originally scheduled to begin in November 2008 and later pushed back until February, the tribunal is now scheduled to begin public hearings on 7 May.
In a statement, Mr. Akiwumi welcomed the tribunal’s decision, pointing out that the judge’s costs are the direct result of Mr. Jack’s 12 September decision to initiate the Judicial Tribunal proceeding.
‘Madam Justice Levers welcomes the Tribunal of Inquiry and, with the benefit of her experienced legal team, she intends to vigorously contest the unwarranted allegations of misbehaviour made against her,’ the statement read.
A spokesperson for Mr. Jack was unable to give an estimate of the total costs of the tribunal, describing the proceeding – only the third of its kind in recent times in a British Territory – as uncharted legal territory.
‘There aren’t many other cases which can help us identify the final cost … so we can only estimate the final sum,’ said Fiona Sinclair of the Governor’s Office.
‘We are working with the Portfolio for Finance and the Tribunal itself, to estimate the overall costs and present a solid budget to Cabinet,’ she said.
‘What we are focusing on at the moment, as with any other Government spending, is being responsible with public money.’
Mr. Jack has previously told Cabinet he expected the tribunal to cost roughly $1 million, but last week’s ruling on costs will now add significantly to that estimate.
Education Minister Alden McLaughlin told the Caymanian Compass that Cabinet has yet to receive a revised price estimate, but he said he expects it to be substantial, possibly in the low million dollars range.
He was quick to point out that his Government had nothing to do with the decision to establish the tribunal and said it has little power to refuse to pay.
Justice Levers has been suspended on full pay since Mr. Jack announced the establishment of the tribunal on 16 September.
According to its terms of reference, the tribunal will be asked to consider whether Justice Levers’ behaviour toward other court staff, judges, attorneys and witnesses warrants her removal from office.
What that means exactly remains unclear, as both sides have declined to outline any of the specific allegations against the judge.
If the tribunal decides the judge’s conduct fell below what is expected of a Grand Court Justice, then the matter will be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which will decide whether to remove the judge from office.
The tribunal is being chaired by Sir Andrew Leggatt, a retired UK Lord Justice of Appeal. Also on the body are Sir Philip Otton, a Privy Counsellor and former Lord Justice of Appeal and Sir David Simmons, the chief justice of Barbados.