The circumstances that led a Cayman Islands judge to bar the release of a tribunal of inquiry’s report regarding another local judge’s conduct on the bench did not violate the Freedom of Information Law.
That finding was made by Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert last week.
“The commissioner was concerned that the FOI process might have been ignored or avoided,” a brief report issued by the commissioner’s office on Thursday stated.
However, the review found that the FOI law “was not in any way undermined or avoided”.
The tribunal’s report regarding suspended Grand Court Justice Priya Levers has been submitted to the Privy Council in the UK for consideration. The court’s judgment on Mrs. Levers continued service in the Cayman Islands is expected to be made sometime next summer.
The Cayman Free Press submitted an open records request for that report on 31 August. The request was initially denied by then-Governor Stuart Jack’s office, the governor indicating he would await the Privy Council ruling on Justice Levers’ matter before release the tribunal’s report.
However, on 2 November, Governor Jack reversed course and decided to release the Tribunal’s report – partially because of the open records request, and partially because of advice received from the Privy Council on the issue.
The sudden reversal – of which the Cayman Free Press was not notified – was challenged in court by Mrs. Levers’ attorneys. Judge Angus Foster ruled following a closed door hearing in late November that the tribunal’s report should not be made public ‘until the question of the publication of the report is determined by the judicial committee of the Privy Council.’
The judge’s reasons in making the 27 November ruling have not been released. On Saturday, Clerk of Courts Valdis Foldats confirmed with Justice Foster that the reasons for the decision ‘are not available to the public’.
Mrs. Dilbert noted in her investigation of the case that Justice Levers would have had no way under the FOI law to block the release of the tribunal’s report.
‘If [the governor’s office] had treated its decision to release the information as an internal review under the FOI Law, and determined that no personal information was contained in the [tribunal of inquiry’s] report, the third party [Judge Levers] would have had no remedy available to prevent disclosure,’ she noted.
The tribunal report mainly concerns Judge Levers’ conduct on the bench and also deals with various allegations she is said to have made against her colleagues in the Cayman Islands court system. Many of these matters were discussed publicly during the tribunal, which was held here in May.
A similar tribunal report issued last year, against Gibraltar Chief Justice Derek Schofield, was released to the public prior to the Privy Council hearing that case. The reasons why the two reports were handled differently have never been openly discussed.
Some $2 million has been spent or budgeted by the Cayman Islands government for the Judge Levers tribunal, which was ordered by former Governor Jack.