Judge misbehaved says report

| 01/06/2010

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island headline News, Justice Priya Levers(CNS):  Updated Three tribunal judges have said that Cayman Islands Grand Court Judge, Justice Priya Levers, should be removed from office. According to the tribunal report, which was released on Tuesday 1 June by the Governor’s Office, the judges found that: “her misconduct, taken as a whole, has demonstrated her unsuitability to remain on the bench and we regard it as so serious as to amount to misbehaviour justifying her removal from office.”  However, Levers’ legal team has said that the Privy Council is in no way bound by the report and her case will be heard on 21 June, when they will argue that the evidence did not support the conclusions of the tribunal.

The Governor’s Office says it has released the report of the tribunal, which heard the case against Levers in May of last year, in accordance with the direction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council given on 18 February. The tribunal was convened by the former governor, Stuart Jack, as a result of information presented to him from Chief Justice Anthony Smellie.

Levers was accused of misbehaviour based on comments made in court, her reported behaviour towards other judges, lawyers, defendants and complainants, as wellas criticising the chief justice and writing letters to a local newspaper (Cayman Net News) that brought the judiciary into disrepute. Although the tribunal said there was no evidence to support the allegation that she had written the letters to the press, the judges found that her conduct in other areas amounted to misbehaviour.
The three judges comprising the tribunal, Sir Andrew Leggatt, Sir Philip Otton and Sir David Simmons, found that in the cases presented to them Levers had shown herself to be “unfit for judicial office”. The senior judges said that they were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that she “surreptitiously undermined the office, and the holder of the office, of Chief Justice by constant criticism of him to third parties.”
The report of the tribunal, which was given to Jack in August last year, was kept under wraps at the direction of the Privy Council in the UK, which will hear the case against Levers later this month.
Following the release of the report her legal team released a statement to CNS stating that the Privy Council is in no way bound by this report, and only the Privy Council can adjudicate on the merits of the evidence and whether the removal proceedings were either warranted or lawful.
“On behalf of Madam Justice Levers, it will be argued that the Tribunal of Inquiry’s findings were illegal,” her legal team stated. “Unfair at the investigatory and instigation stage, due process was not observed and she was treated unfairly by the Chief Justice; the evidence did not support the conclusions of the Tribunal of Inquiry that Madam Justice Levers ‘misbehaved’ such as to justify her removal as a Judge of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands; and the Tribunal of Inquiry went beyond its remit and, in making adverse findings, the Tribunal of Inquiry exceeded its powers under the Terms of Reference … contrary to the Constitution.”
The judges said in their report, however, that they were advising the governor to request that the question of the removal of Levers from office be referred to the Privy Council. The advice was based on what they said was “a pattern of misconduct amounting cumulatively to misbehaviour”. 
The judges stated in the report: “It became apparent from our Inquiry that the judge’s conduct had fallen below the required standards both in court and out of court. In court her cavalier treatment, when the inclination took her, of parties, witnesses and attorneys was in breach of most of the Bangalore Principles. On such occasions the standards of judicial conduct which she exhibited must inevitably have undermined public confidence in the judiciary.”
The judges examined a number of transcripts of criminal cases, testimony from witnesses in family matters, statements from lawyers, court staff and the chief justice. The tribunal said Levers’ comments in court, as recorded on the transcripts, manifested bias and prejudice towards individuals and groups on irrelevant grounds.
“There were occasions on which she was impatient, undignified and discourteous to litigants, witnesses and lawyers,” the judges stated, suggesting she had abused her freedom of speech by exhibiting blatant bias against Jamaicans.
However, her attorneys had pointed out that Levers had lived for a considerable time in Jamaica, was married to a Jamaican and her children also considered themselves Jamaicans, and it was therefore unlikely she had any real prejudice against Jamaicans.
Although Levers had submitted some 30 character references, testifying to the professional regard in which those who wrote them held her, the judges said Levers had also proved capable of behaving quite differently.
The judges said that some 11 criminal cases had been examined in which Levers’ conduct ranged from unexceptionable to heinous. “Where there was misconduct, it was of several types, including opprobrious comments about other judges; remarks redolent of bias and prejudice; an improper visit to a crime scene and breach of an assurance given to counsel; reckless complaints against counsel of serious professional misconduct; and undeserved criticisms of counsel,” the report stated.
The judges went on to say that in many cases she made objectionable comments which went  beyond occasional inappropriate remarks and revealed a course of conduct by a judge who has shown herself to be devoid of self-control. “No system of justice, particularly in a jurisdiction in which there are only four permanent Grand Court judges, can afford to include one who from time to time behaves in a way that is so uncouth, so insensitive and so unpleasant as to appear unfair. These were incidents explicable not by tiredness or inadvertence, but only by self-importance and an attitude of superiority as well as by an unbecoming lack of restraint,” the report revealed.
As well as criticising her comments regarding defendants, witnesses and her judicial colleagues, the report also criticised Levers for visiting a crime scene during a firearms case, where she had suggested to the lawyers involved that a gun discovered there by police could have been a plant. The tribunal suggested her actions, without informing counsel, in inventing a defence of ‘plant’ in the absence of evidence and in breaching her undertaking not to advance the issue in her summing-up, amounted together to serious misconduct.
A statement from her legal team at Stuarts Walker Hersant said evidence that was either “blatantly incredible, melodramatic or speculative … was, if not accepted by the Tribunal of Inquiry, relied upon by it to reach adverse conclusions which were contrary to the evidence and contrary to law.”
Her lawyers sated: “Of the many allegations made against Madam Justice Levers, most of which were grounded in speculation and lacked either specificity, independence or corroboration, the Tribunal of Inquiry made few adverse findings. Regrettably, though, such adverse conclusions as the Tribunal of Inquiry reached were without evidential foundation and were, for the most part, expressed in intemperate terms, seemingly ignorant of the fact that Madam Justice Levers, a learned and distinguished jurist, had the support of a substantial majority of legal practitioners, of diverse experience, who had had the privilege of appearing before her in the Grand Court. “

The legal team also noted that once the governor determined to involve the Privy Council, she had no choice, at great cost to the public purse, to be heard by the Privy Council to adjudicate on the merits of the case. The proceedings will now be held in public on 21 June for a four day hearing at the Supreme Court Buildings in Parliament Square in London, where the Privy Council will decide if Levers will or will not be removed from the bench.

Go to report

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