Report: Judge Levers ‘unfit’ for office

Privy Council gets case this month

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The UK Privy Council has ordered
the release of a highly critical Tribunal of Inquiry report into the conduct of
suspended Cayman Islands Grand Court Justice Priya Levers.

Although the document does not
specifically recommend the removal of Justice Levers from the bench, it does
state in its conclusion that her conduct over a number of months had shown her
to be “unfit for judicial office”.

It will be up to the Privy Council
to make a final decision on Mrs. Levers’ future.  The judicial body is due to begin hearing the
case on 21 June. 

“She was in these official dealings
bereft of the restraint, the moderation, the compassion, the fairness and the
dignity which should typify a judge,” the tribunal report states, referring to
several court cases it examined that were presided over by Mrs. Levers. 

The conclusion of the 114-page
report goes on to say that the justice did not respect the rights of
parties
involved in the various cases it reviewed. 

“She abused her freedom of
expression by exhibiting blatant bias against Jamaicans,” the tribunal
report
stated. “To any objective person in the court…she was seen to
undermine
public confidence and trust in the judicial system itself.” 

Late Tuesday, Justice Levers’ attorney Anthony Akiwumi released a statement
on her behalf claiming the tribunal’s findings were “illegal, unfair,
unreasonable and unlawful”. 

Mr. Akiwumi stated that Mrs. Levers was “treated unfairly” by Cayman Islands
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, and that the tribunal evidence did not support
conclusions that Mrs. Levers had misbehaved. 

Mr. Akiwumi said the tribunal also went beyond its remit and exceeded its
powers in making adverse findings. 

“It is apparent that evidence…was either blatantly incredible,
melodramatic or speculative,” the attorney’s statement read. 

In the report, Mrs. Levers’ made
representations based on the testimony of 30 character witnesses who described
her as “careful, caring, sound, fair, impartial, attentive, courteous,
dignified, and helpful”.

Mrs. Levers also noted to the
tribunal that she had been married to a Jamaican for 26 years, and had borne
three children in that country. 

“She emphasised these matters in
order to suggest that it is unlikely that she would have exhibited bias or
prejudice against Jamaicans,” the report stated.

The suspended judge also
represented that many of the allegations against her had come from court
reporters; people who may not have been qualified to judge Mrs. Levers’
conduct. She said other complaints were from Crown Counsel or disgruntled
litigants “who feel badly done by”. 

The tribunal, led by Sir Andrew
Leggatt, noted that in many cases it reviewed, Mrs. Levers’ conduct on the
bench did not match her supporters’ descriptions.

Moreover, the document raises
questions concerning Mrs. Levers’ interactions with her fellow justices and
magistrates that it inferred could inhibit her future employment in any jurisdiction.

“She has poisoned the well to such
an extent that her reputation in this regard…will inevitably precede and follow
her wherever she might ever be able to sit both in and outside the Cayman
Islands.”

The cases

The request to convene the Tribunal
of Inquiry was made by former Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack, following
requests by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie. The chief justice was described in
the report as having been concerned about Mrs. Levers’ conduct since 2007 and
noted he had become more concerned following her subsequent replies to his
efforts to resolve the matter.  

Tribunal members commented on
particular cases heard in Justice Levers’ court, including:

*R v Bryan – This was the “most
serious” of the criminal cases, according to the tribunal, where the judge is
alleged to have made “irrelevant remarks indicative of prejudice against
Jamaicans and against women”. The criminal case involved two assaults, one
against the suspect’s girlfriend and another against a man who was trying to
protect her. The chief justice stated that there was “gratuitous disparagement”
of the female victim in this case which occurred in public.

“Her own comments in court were
disgraceful,” the tribunal noted.

*R v Irvalyn Bush – The defendant
in this case was charged with possession of a gun. Although evidence did not
support it, Mrs. Levers made remarks in her summing up that the weapon could
have been planted. According to the report, Mrs. Levers made those remarks after
promising Crown Counsel she would not raise the gun planting issue before the
jury.

*R v Parchment – In this case, Mrs.
Levers made allegations of professional misconduct against a Crown Counsel.
None of those allegations were justified, in the view of the tribunal.

*Family court cases – Some of the
family cases reviewed showed the conduct of Justice Levers “at its worst”,
according to the tribunal report.

In one case, the judge made
comments about a foreign woman in a child custody case, inferring that her lack
of money and work record were “typical of foreign women who have relations with
Caymanian men and then seek to leave the jurisdiction with their child”.

Referring to another family case,
the tribunal stated that Justice Levers took it upon herself to question a
minor without giving notice to the boy’s parents. Tribunal members viewed the
suspended justice’s responses in many of the family court matters as favouring
the man rather than the woman.

Open records

The report, according to the Privy
Council – the highest legal authority the Cayman Islands is subject to – had to
be released Tuesday. The order to release the report was made in mid-February.
What led to the more than three months’ delay in releasing the document is
unknown.

A spokesperson for Cayman Governor
Duncan Taylor said the inquiry’s report has been released in full with just a
few minor redactions to protect the identities of children involved in certain
court cases.

Mrs. Levers has previously
challenged the proposed release of the report which is highly critical of her
past performance on the bench.

The Caymanian Compass submitted an
open records request for that document last year.

The report was drafted following a
Tribunal of Inquiry conducted in the Cayman Islands in 2009 at the request of
then-Governor Stuart Jack. The report was completed in August 2009, but
Governor Jack declined to release it at that time.

However, court records obtained by
the Caymanian Compass revealed that Governor Jack changed his mind – partly
because of the open records request – and informed Justice Levers in a letter
sent 2 November, 2009, that he intended to release the report.

The initial release date for the
Tribunal’s report was set for 10 November. However, that release was delayed
after Mrs. Levers’ attorneys filed for a judicial review of the governor’s
decision.

In the filing for judicial review,
Mrs. Levers’ lawyers argued that the governor’s decision was ultra vires,
outside the law, and that Mr. Jack had not given sufficient evidence as to why
the Tribunal report should be released.

A visiting judge agreed with Mrs.
Levers’ attorneys and ruled that the tribunal report should be held pending the
decision of the Privy Council on the matter.

The Council is due to begin hearing
the matter on 21 June in London. Justices ruled that the tribunal’s report
should be made public before then.

To view a full copy of the tribunal’s report go to http://ukincayman.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=PressR&id=22307257

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Mrs. Levers

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