There was standing room only in Court 2 on Wednesday evening when members of the judiciary, court staff, attorneys and other well-wishers gathered to pay tribute to Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale. She was scheduled to leave Cayman today, Friday, to take up her appointment as Puisne Judge on the Supreme Court for Turks and Caicos Islands (Caymanian Compass, 10 October).
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie presided at the special sitting and said the large and enthusiastic turnout was itself a tribute even before any speeches were made.
He noted he had welcomed Ms Ramsay-Hale to her then-post of magistrate in 1998. Her remarkable work ethic was immediately evident as she tackled the backlog of cases, he said, and her enthusiasm for work had been in evidence ever since. She contributed to the administration of justice in many ways. She was one of the pioneers of the Drug Rehabilitation Court. Her ability to think outside the box showed itself in her seminal work piloting a programme for drink/driving offenders, a mental health court and the domestic violence intervention court. These courts are now run on an informal basis but he looked forward to seeing them established through legislation as the Drug Rehab Court has been.
Attorney Andre Ebanks sent laughter through the room as he described the fierce tutorials conducted by the Chief Magistrate at the Cayman Islands Law School. When he went on to study abroad, he prepared for other tutors as if he would be facing her. “I knew if I could survive you, I could survive anyone,” he told her. “You helped us become better lawyers.”
He cited her work with Big Brothers Big Sisters and called her impact awesome. “I submit that the Chief Magistrate has not only made a sterling contribution to the legal profession, she has made our country a better place.”
Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards spoke on behalf of the public bar and said this was a sad occasion. The Chief Magistrate was well respected because she was unfailingly fair, always balanced, always courteous. What distinguished her was the heart she had for public service, taking the approach — What is the underlying problem and how can I assist, even if it means defining new ways?
Ms Richards said the Chief Magistrate could be confident she has left an innovative pathway that can be followed “and I am confident it will be followed,” she said.
Attorney John Furniss spoke on behalf of the criminal defence bar and those who appeared in the Summary Courts regularly. “It has been an interesting and challenging 13 years,” he observed and he hoped her courts in Turks would be equally stimulating. He asked her to keep in touch and not forget the people she had worked with in Cayman.
Ramon Alberga, considered Father of the Bar in Cayman, came out of retirement to attend the special sitting. Part of his tribute was an acknowledgment that he had never succeeded in upsetting a judgment of hers in the Court of Appeal. He predicted that once she has been in Turks and Caicos for a few years she will take her place in an elite court of appeal elsewhere, “where I am confident she will make as great a contribution to an appeal court of which she is a member as Baroness Hale has made to the House of Lords.” [Baroness Hale is the only woman on the Supreme Court of the UK.] Mr. Alberga said Turks and caicos would benefit from her presence there.
Both he and Howard Hamilton referred to the chief magistrate’s father, Defence Attorney Ian Ramsay, QC, OJ, whom they knew in Jamaica as a personal friend and professional colleague. Mr. Alberga said he was disappointed that Mr. Ramsay, who died in 2002, could not be present for what would have been a proud day for him. “He would say, ‘I’m quite certain she will make a better judge than I would because she has a better temperament and more reserved personality,’” Mr. Alberga suggested.
When Mr. Hamilton rose to address the court, he began, “May it please you, My Lady…”
“Not yet,” the chief magistrate corrected. She will take the oath of office for her new position on Tuesday, 1 November.
Mr. Hamilton recalled “fond memories of fighting in court rooms” together, when she was a junior in his law firm, and then when she became a magistrate and he appeared before her. He told her that her father was present because her family members were present. ”You will do well. You can’t help doing well. It’s just in you,” he said. “On behalf of the Jamaican bar, I wish you continued success, health and happiness.”
The chief magistrate replied to all speakers. She thanked Mr. Alberga for his confidence in her ability going forward. “I once was ambivalent about the bench,” she acknowledged. “Once you go up you can’t come back down,” she said, referring to the protocol that does not allow a judge to return to practise as an attorney. “It’s a decision to limit your income forever.” She said if Mr. Alberga’s wish for her came true, she would be delighted.
The chief magistrate announced that she will be going to Providenciales, referred to as Provo. Justice Richard Williams, who recently came to these Islands from Turks and Caicos, had told her Provo is similar to Cayman, so she did not think she would miss Cayman too much. In the 13 years she lived here, she had come to regard this place as her home. With her children remaining here, her home also remains here, she said.
She remarked that the turnout for the special sitting had been extraordinary. “I’m happy to go to Turks and Caicos, but I’m sorry to leave you all,” she said.
After court adjourned, a reception was held in the court lobby. There, Ms Ramsay-hale received a framed certificate of honorary membership in the Caymanian Bar Association and a gift from court staff, presented by Patricia Muschette, human resources manager for judicial administration.