The Governor’s Office and court officials have denied Caymanian Compass Freedom of Information requests relating to the Justice Pryia Levers tribunal, including the amount of public money being spent on the tribunal.
In a letter emailed to the Compass Thursday, the Governor’s office denied an FOI request for financial documents relating to the tribunal, citing an exemption in the law that relates to Cabinet deliberations.
‘The records that we possess on this subject include opinions, advice and recommendations prepared for the Governor in Cabinet and as such they reveal the Government’s deliberative process, which is not discloseable,’ the response, from Andy Holbrook, information manager in the Governor’s Office, said.
The Compass had asked the Department of Judicial Administration for documents about an agreement with a local law firm – understood to be Campbells – to represent court staff involved in the Justice Levers’ Tribunal.
A response to that request from Judicial Administration Information Officer Valdis Foldats stated that the requested documents are subject to legal professional privilege and are exempt from disclosure.
‘It must be noted that in the United Kingdom, legal professional privilege is subject to a ‘public interest’ test; in the Cayman Islands it is not. This is a fundamental difference,’ Mr. Foldats stated.
Considerations of what information is in the public interest play no part when it comes to decisions regarding Legal Professional Privilege, Mr. Foldats continued.
‘The FOI law confers an absolute exemption, preserving, unaltered, the common law right of legal professional privilege.
‘Your application, in essence, seeks any records relating to a particular law firm’s retainer with Judicial Administration; as such it aims at the heart of an attorney-client relationship,’ he said.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie has previously declined Compass requests for information on the agreement and has refused to even confirm that Campbells has been instructed, saying that so long as the matter is pending before the Tribunal, it would not be appropriate for him to discuss any aspect of the matter in the media.
Mr. Holbrook, likewise said he did not want to comment with tribunal proceedings ongoing.
‘I would be grateful for your continuing patience in this matter and I give you my assurance that a full account will be given at the end of the proceedings; this will include an accurate amount of the sums spent rather than a speculative total,’ he said.
The Cayman Islands’ budget contains $1.4 million for the Justice Levers judicial tribunal, but with ‘magic circle’ law firms involved and with government expected to pay at least 75 per cent of Justice Levers’ legal costs, the total price tag is expected to be much higher.
Justice Levers has been suspended on full pay since Governor Stuart 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.
The case against Justice Levers, according to tribunal documents, includes claims the judge gossiped about top Cayman Islands judges being involved in affairs and criminal behaviour; that she demonstrated bias – particularly against women – in cases before her; and that she was the author of a series of letters published in Cayman Net News in 2007 that were highly critical of members of the judiciary.
The Judge has vowed to ‘vigorously contest the unwarranted allegations of misbehaviour made against her.’
The Tribunal is due to begin public hearing on 7 May.