A tribunal of investigation into alleged misbehaviour by Judge Priya Levers kept Cayman enthralled for a week and a half in May.
Governor Stuart Jack established a Judicial Tribunal in 2008 to investigate complaints against Judge Levers.
He appointed Sir Andrew Leggatt QC, a former lord justice of the UK Court of Appeal, to chair the tribunal, which also included two other judges – Sir Phillip Otton, a privy counsellor and former lord justice of appeal, and Sir David Simmons, the chief justice of Barbados.
The hearing, held in a converted hotel room at the Marriott Beach drew a packed house almost every day. Some $2 million has been spent or budgeted by the Cayman Islands government for the tribunal.
Allegations against the Sri Lankan-born judge ranged from her spreading rumours and gossip about members of Cayman’s judiciary; that she was biased against women and Canadians; and that she had penned letters published in the Cayman Net News that were critical of the judiciary.
The tribunal’s legal representative, Timothy Otty QC, stated toward the end of the hearing that there was not enough evidence to support claims Mrs. Levers had written the letters, including one signed ‘Laetitia Barton’ about which the tribunal had heard several hours of testimony from various witnesses.
Some 30 witnesses were called to give evidence, including several court staff, lawyers, and people who had appeared before the judge.
One Canadian mother gave evidence via video link, claiming Judge Levers had humiliated and belittled her during a court hearing over custody of the woman’s son. Other women who had appeared before Judge Levers in family court made similar allegations of mistreatment by the judge.
Court reporter Carol Rouse told the tribunal she and colleagues had approached the chief justice, Anthony Smellie, about concerns over Judge Levers’ behavior and her treatment of some witnesses, including remarks made by the judge about a woman who almost died after being assaulted by her then partner with a bike pump.
She said when the judge heard the Jamaican victim was applying for Caymanian status, she replied ‘How do I object to that?’ Ms Rouse felt the judge was inferring the woman ‘brought it upon herself’.
Crown counsel in that case, Elizabeth Lees, said in her evidence that the woman’s application for Caymanian status had been irrelevant to the proceedings and described the judge’s comments as ‘offensive’. However, she agreed that any bias the judge may have had against the woman did not affect the sentence she ultimately passed. Judge Levers sentenced the defendant to 10 years in prison.
Things took a bizarre turn on day three of the tribunal when a witness claimed the judge consulted a card reading psychic and had drawn up a list of people that she wanted barred from her funeral.
The claims came from Justice Levers’ long-time secretary, Elizabeth Webb, who said a psychic told Justice Levers that she would receive a kidney from a car crash victim, and had predicted the judge would one day work with someone named Webb.
She also said she had seen an envelope on the judge’s desk signed Leticia Barton and addressed to ‘the editor’ prior to the publication of a letter in the Net News that slammed the judiciary.
Cayman Net News Desmond Seales and managing editor Barry Randall – via video link – testified they did not know who wrote the letters.
Chief Justice Smellie also gave evidence about the letters and his attempts to call for a police investigation into them. He was quizzed by Mrs. Levers’ defence attorney Stanley Brodie QC on why he had taken his concerns about Mrs. Levers to Governor Stuart Jack, a move that ultimately led to the tribunal being formed to consider the judge’s removal from office for misbehaviour.
Chief magistrate Margaret Ramsey-Hale testified that Judge Levers had bad-mouthed and maliciously gossiped about her to court staff
Justice Levers was sworn in as the Grand Court’s first female judge in March 2003, after 25 years of private practice in Jamaica.
She spent two days giving evidence.
She admitted she was ‘not proud’ of the case involving the woman beaten by the bicycle pump and said she had apologised to her for the comments regarding the victim’s immigration status.
The judge insisted she was not the author of the Laetitia Barton or any of the other letters in question that appeared in the Net News.
In August, Governor Stuart Jack indefinitely suspended Judge Levers, on the advice of the tribunal and requested the Queen of England refer the case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The findings of the tribunal remain secret, despite an effort by Mr. Jack to release them. Judge Levers’ lawyers challenged the release of the tribunal report, on which the Privy Council is expected to rule next summer.
Justice Angus Foster ruled in a closed door hearing in late November that the 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’.
Mrs. Levers remained suspended from duty, on full salary.