Justice Priya Levers responded to a raft of allegations and criticisms levelled against her by judicial colleagues and courthouse staff as she took the stand in the first of two scheduled days of questioning on Thursday.
Timothy Otty QC throughout the seventh day of the tribunal referred to cases in Grand Court and Family Court that Mrs. Levers had heard and from which arose allegations about her behaviour litigants, court recorders, witnesses and lawyers.
Some of these cases and Mrs. Levers’ alleged comments or behaviour in relation to them had been subject to a memo to her from the Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in May 2007.
Mrs. Levers said she had been upset at the criticisms levelled against her in the memo, and had cried in the Chief Justice’s office, and he had hugged her in sympathy.
‘I was very upset,’ she said.
She later responded to the memo on 4 June asking the Chief Justice to expunge the “damaging words” from her personnel records, and telling him she had consulted lawyers on the matter. The Chief Justice indicated in an email response to her that he had intended the issue to be confidential.
Asked by Mr. Otty why she had asked for this to expunged from her personnel record and retained counsel, she responded: ‘I was scared. My job was on the line, I thought. Allegations were made. I had not had the chance to respond to them and I was not sure of my position and my security of tenure.’
Throughout six and a half hours of intense questioning, Mr. Otty presented allegations made by witnesses that have been heard throughout the tribunal hearing and invited Mrs. Levers to comment or respond on them.
In reference to one case, the Crown versus Christopher Ebanks that was heard in February 2006, Mrs. Levers admitted she ‘may have been over-zealous’ in comments she made from the bench that ‘half the judges were having coffee’ at 2.30pm in the afternoons.
She said she made that remark because she was upset that a fellow judge had told her he would not take a case from her on an afternoon she needed to undergo dialysis because he was going scuba diving.
‘I don’t believe I meant to say anything inappropriate about fellow judges. It was certainly not my intention,’ she said.
The tribunal heard that the Chief Justice had brought another case to her attention in which he had made notes beside the transcript of the Crown versus Anthony Bryan. He questioned the relevance of her asking whether the victim and attacker were Caymanian.
When told they were Jamaican, she asked if the badly injured victim had a work permit and how it was that she was about to get Caymanian status. The Chief Justice had written in the margins of the transcript: ‘What business is this of the court?’
Mrs. Levers said: ‘I am not proud of this case,’ adding repeatedly that she apologised to the victim and had not made the comments due to any bias or prejudice towards Jamaicans.
She said that she had wanted to get the ‘full picture’ about the victim’s immigration status because the court could report to the Immigration Department about people it felt should not have work permits extended, and not necessarily just those who were accused of crimes.
Following the Chief Justice’s criticism of her comments, she said she had discontinued asking questions relating to immigration status in future cases.
In another case, Mr. Otty questioned her about visiting the scene of a crime at which a gun had been found in the possession of an 19-year-old woman. She had told neither defence nor prosecution counsel she planned to visit the area.
Mrs. Levers told the court that there was a mandatory 10 years sentence for possessing illegal firearms and she had been concerned about jailing a young woman for a decade. She had brought to defence counsel’s attention a possible defence that the gun might have been planted.
Despite agreeing with counsel that she would make no suggestion that the gun was planted to the jury, in her summing up she said police seemed to know exactly what they were looking for and stopped searching once they found the gun.
Mr. Otty also questioned the judge on a case involving the defilement, or statutory rape, of a 12-year-old girl in which she told the girl, who was 14 when she appeared as a witness in the case in April 2006, to speak up in the witness box and ‘not play coy’.
Mrs. Levers insisted she meant the girl should speak louder as in 21 instances in the transcript of the case, the court recorder had noted the girl could not be heard because she spoke so softly. Asked by Mr. Otty if by telling the girl not to ‘play coy’, Mrs. Levers was ‘giving the impression to the jury, or the girl, or her family that you somehow doubted her credibility,’ Mrs. Levers insisted that was not the case.
Questioned on why she had asked how the girl was dressed and if she wore make-up, Mrs. Levers said that the defence for defilement was that the accused believed the girl was 16 or older and she had been trying to ascertain if the defendant could genuinely have believed the girl was above the age of consent.
Mr. Otty also questioned the judge on her summing up in which he said by reading the transcript of the case, Mrs. Levers appeared to be suggesting to the jury that the girl was lying or had a ‘convenient memory’ in the witness box.
She had said in the summing up: ‘The only way you can find him guilty in this case is if you feel very, very sure he knew she was under 16.’
Tribunal member Sir Philip Otton asked where in law stated the words ‘very, very’ and said Mrs. Levers had given the jury a misdirection, which she admitted.
Mr. Otty brought several more cases before Mrs. Levers, including a number from the Family Court in which the judge had been accused of acting insensitively or inappropriately.
In one case referred to by Mr. Otty, an expatriate mother had testified that Mrs. Levers told her: ‘That’s what you get for having married a black man,’ in response to the woman’s assertion that she should have custody of her child because her ex-husband played dominos and drank on Friday night.
But Mrs. Levers said she recalled using the term ‘Caribbean man’ rather than ‘black man’.
Earlier in the hearing, Mrs. Levers’ counsel, Stanley Brodie QC, had sought to clear up allegations made in secretary Elizabeth Webb’s testimony that the judge had used psychics and tarot card readers and believe their psychic predictions. Asked if she believed in or consulted psychics or card-readers, Mrs. Levers insisted she did not.