First woman to serve on Cayman’s high court bench, removed from office after judicial tribunal
Priya Levers, the first woman appointed to Cayman’s Grand Court, died on Christmas Eve, an associate close to the family has confirmed.
Justice Levers took her oath of office in March 2003, but she had appeared in Cayman courts since the early 1990s both as an acting judge and as defense counsel.
As full-time judge, she dealt with criminal and civil matters, including family court. She was suspended from office in September 2008 by then-governor Stuart Jack. Mr. Jack convened a judicial tribunal, which was asked to consider whether the judge’s conduct, manner and behavior toward witnesses, attorneys, court staff and judges amounted to misbehavior warranting her removal from office.
The three-member tribunal heard evidence in May 2009, in a small suite at the Marriott Beach Resort, and proceedings received extensive media coverage. The tribunal made its report to the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee, which recommended that Mrs. Levers be removed from office for misbehavior and an inability to carry out the functions of her role as a Grand Court judge in Cayman. She was formally removed from office by Governor Duncan Taylor in August 2010.
The committee had considered the judge’s conduct of court proceedings, her relationship with Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and her attitude toward fellow judges. In published findings, the committee stated that it was “most concerned with those occasions when [Justice Levers] has been guilty in court of completely inexcusable conduct that have given the appearance of racism, bias against foreigners and bias in favour of the defence in criminal cases…. They have been fatal flaws in a judicial career that has had many admirable features.”
A native of Sri Lanka, Mrs. Levers came to Cayman via Jamaica, where she had been in private practice for 25 years. Prior to that, she spent five years in Bermuda, where she was that territory’s first female Crown counsel. She also worked in India, Sri Lanka and the U.K.
In Cayman, one of her judgments awarded what was then the highest injury claim in local courts – $5.4 million to the passenger in a car driven by a man who was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol. The victim suffered irreparable brain damage from a severe head injury. Mrs. Levers accepted medical evidence that the man functioned at the level of a 2-year-old as a result, and would require full-time personal care for all activities of daily living for the rest of his life.
An important aspect of that 2006 judgment was her finding in 2004 of contributory negligence. The victim and the driver had been out drinking together and the victim himself was a driver. In this day and age it could be inferred that any driver must be aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, she said, and reduced the claimed damages of $6.8 million by 20 percent. She cautioned that the question of a passenger’s knowledge about a driver’s condition was peculiar to the facts of each case and it could not be said that because a passenger permitted himself or herself to be driven by a drunken driver the passenger was automatically guilty of contributory negligence.
In December 2006, a matter came before Mrs. Levers’ court involving a defendant for whom hospital records had been requested in March that year but had not been received. The judge said she needed to know what was happening in the hospital, and she required the persons who were responsible to attend court. She subsequently heard from the medical records manager, a police officer, a psychiatrist and a mental health clerk.
A senior member of the legal department later advised that he would send a memo to the medical director saying there must be a protocol in place for dealing with requests. He said he would see to it that everyone in a position to receive such a request is aware of the proper procedure. The judge indicated her satisfaction with this outcome.
Outside of court, Mrs. Levers was known as a founding member of the Cayman Islands Kidney Foundation, serving as its first secretary. Immediate family members surviving her include a daughter, Dhara, and a son, Christopher.