Constitution: Judges may serve until age 70

Judges and other court personnel on the steps of the courthouse at the official opening of Grand Court earlier this year. Grand Court judges can now serve on the bench until the age of 70. - PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

Cayman Islands Grand Court judges may now serve on the bench until they reach age 70, according to amendments to the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, approved by the U.K. Privy Council and British Parliament.

Additional changes place disciplinary proceedings against Grand Court judges and Summary Court magistrates in the hands of the chief justice, rather than giving that power to the governor. Any disciplinary matters involving judges on the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal will be decided by the court’s president, according to the constitutional changes.

According to explanatory notes attached to the amendments, nothing will change the governor’s ultimate power to remove judges and magistrates on valid grounds. However, the amendments deal with instances when discipline ‘short of removal’ may be required in certain circumstances for judges and magistrates.

Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed Thursday that the constitutional amendments, the first to be made since the governing document was entirely revamped in 2009, had been supported by both sides of the Legislative Assembly.

The matter of how long Grand Court judges were allowed to serve was the subject of a lengthy legal challenge before the local courts and the Privy Council several years ago involving former Grand Court Justice Alexander Henderson.

The specific claim pitted Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie against then-Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor and the territory’s appointed Judicial and Legal Services Commission.

The first issue brought before the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee in 2012 involved Justice Henderson’s reappointment to the Grand Court. At the time, Mr. Henderson’s term had expired in June 2011. Mr. Henderson asked Governor Taylor in December 2010 for an extension of his term on the Grand Court bench through Nov. 4, 2014 – the day before Mr. Henderson would reach 70 years of age.

Governor Taylor sought advice from the Judicial and Legal Services Commission on the matter. The commission stated that there was “no basis upon which it is necessary in the interests of the administration of justice that Justice Henderson should continue in office until Nov. 4, 2014.” The governor stated later that he was “content to go along with that advice.”

The second issue raised before the Judicial Committee at the time was the publication of a complaints procedure in relation to the Cayman Islands judiciary.

The focus of the issue appeared to be around the role of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission after it investigated a complaint against a judge or a magistrate.

According to the complaints procedure, the commission can either decide no disciplinary action is required; that the case can be disposed of properly with a lesser sanction than removal of the judge; or that the case does call for the exercise of such powers of disciplinary control short of removal from office.

The chief justice complained that the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, as it existed at the time, did not allow the governor or the appointed commission to impose disciplinary sanctions ‘short of removal.’ In cases where those matters might arise in the future, the constitution clarifies that they will be left to the chief justice or Court of Appeal president.