Court of Appeal judge retires

Justice Ian Forte took part in well over 200 cases

Judges and attorneys gathered on Friday, 5 August, to say thank you and happy retirement to Justice Ian Forte, who leaves the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal after seven years. 

There have been 22 sessions of the court since he was appointed in July 2004 and Justice Forte has been part of the three-member bench for 18 of them. The number of appeals listed for each session has typically ranged from 12 to 18, so an informal calculation could mean he has heard some 270 cases. 

Some appeals are typically withdrawn and others carried over to another session, but they all require reading and preparation. A safe estimate would be that Justice Forte took part in well over 200 cases. 

A number involved civil suits or divorce proceedings, which the Caymanian Compass does not usually cover. Criminal appeals were, of course, crucial to the individuals concerned, but some were also of general public interest and importance. 

For example, Justice Forte was part of the court that upheld the convictions of Larry Prinston Ricketts and Kirkland Henry for the murder of Estella Scott-Roberts. Earlier in the same year, he and his brother judges ordered the retrial of Josue Perez for murder after agreeing with the Crown that the trial judge had misdirected himself on the standard of proof. 

In 2006, Justice Forte was part of the tribunal that reaffirmed sentencing principles in cases of theft by an employee or person in a position of trust. In 2009, he took part in a hearing that led the high court to set out factors for judges to consider when sentencing for rape. 

In April this year he was on the bench when the Crown appealed as too lenient the sentence of three teenagers who had pleaded guilty to the daylight robbery of Domino’s Pizza in Savannah. The court said the sentence should have been three years imprisonment instead of two years with 18 months suspended. 

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie opened the special sitting on Friday, recalling the “atmosphere of complete professionalism and independence” that operated when Mr. Forte served as Director of Public Prosecutions in Jamaica and Mr. Smellie was a member of his staff before coming to Cayman. He said Mr. Forte’s deep resolve and calm and unflappable nature had also helped him in his work as judge. 

Cheryll Richards, recently appointed as Cayman’s first Director of Public Prosecutions, revealed that attorneys in the Legal Department referred to Mr. Forte as “Razor”, as in “Razor-sharp legal mind”. She said all who had appeared before him would miss his clarity of thought and his ability to capture in a few words what an attorney had struggled for half an hour to say. She thanked him for his courtesy and unfailing kindness to all counsel. 

On behalf of the Law Society, attorney Neil Timms said the legal profession has a high opinion of the Islands’ judiciary and in particular of Justice Forte, whose retirement was an occasion of both sadness and pride. He said Mr. Forte had both witnessed and played his role in the development of Cayman and the maturing of its body of law. 

Speaking for the criminal defence bar, attorney David McGrath observed that the job of a criminal advocate was often tricky because it involved making sometimes hopeless arguments to a tribunal that has heard them all. But however meretricious submissions in the Court of Appeal may have been, justice was always done with clarity, civility, professionalism, humanity, style and class, Mr. McGrath said. 

In a short reply, Justice Forte thanked everyone for all the kind remarks and joked that he hoped even 50 per cent of them were accurate. He commented on the careers in Jamaica of Mr. Smellie, Ms Richards and Senior Crown Counsel Tanya Lobban, who was in the audience.  

“I say thank God Jamaica is well represented in the Cayman Islands,” he said.  

He closed with the hope that he had served well. 

No announcement has been made concerning a successor to Mr. Forte, probably because his retirement does not take place officially until November, when he turns 75. The Cayman Islands Constitution does not set any age limit on judges of the Court of Appeal. However the former governor, Stuart Jack, in 2008 determined 75 as the retirement age of judges. 

The Court of Appeal consists of the president, Sir John Chadwick, and four other judges. Three sit for a session. As Sir John pointed out, Mr. Forte could return if the need for a special session arose. 

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A reception was held after court on Friday with guests including, from left, Court of Appeal president Sir John Chadwick, court registrar Audrey Bodden, Justice Ian Forte, Court of Appeal Justice Abdullah Conteh and Chief Justice Anthony Smellie. – Photos: Carol Winker
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