Tribunal hears prosecutor’s complaints of Levers

| 09/05/2009

(CNS): Elizabeth Lees, a prosecutor from the government’s legal department, was the first attorney to voice complaints against Madame Justice Priya Levers as the Grand Court Judge’s tribunal got underway for the second day’s hearing. Lees, one of a small number of lawyers who have submitted complaints against Justice Levers, told how at one trial she had made a request for the judge to recuse herself because she believed the public could have lost trust in the judicial system as a result of the judge’s decision to go to the scene of a crime.

Questioned on her witness statements submitted to the tribunal on Friday, 8 May, by both the tribunal’s lawyer, Timothy Otty QC, and Justice Lever’s representative, Stanley Brodie QC, Lees also described a number of incidents where she said the judge behaved inappropriately towards witnesses and victims, some of which corroborated with earlier statements made in witness testimony about the judge rolling her eyes and making dismissive gestures. Lees went on to cite incidents where she had heard Justice Levers make what she considered irrelevant and inappropriate remarks about victims, as well as bias.

She also referred to a particular trial where Justice Levers had visited the scene of a crime during a lunch hour without telling either the defence or the prosecuting counsel until she returned, when she then called both lawyers to chambers and suggested that a gun, which was key to the prosecution’s evidence, could have been planted. Although the discussion about the possible plant did not take place in front of the jury, Lees said she was concerned about how it impacted the judge’s direction to the jury at her summing up and what she had said during the jury’s visit to the same scene. Lees told the tribunal she had asked the attorney general about making an application for Levers to recuse herself, and she said the AG had backed her decision.

Levers, however, had refused and as Brodie began revealing the details of the case during his questioning of Lees, he suggested that the prosecutor’s complaints were more about the possibility of misdirection rather than judicial misbehaviour, but because there was in the end a prosecution, there was ultimately be no case for the prosecution to call a mistrial, which Lees acknowledged.

“I have raised in my statements the problems I had and the inappropriate behaviour I saw,” said Lees. “It is not my business to decide what is judicial misbehaviour.”

Brodie outlined the sensitivity of the case and why Levers may have been keen to ensure every avenue was explored, not least for the fact that one of the defendants was a teenage mother pregnant with another child who was facing a possible 10 year mandatory sentence for firearms offences. Brodie then noted the need for Justice Levers to ensure that the defendant was given the best possible chance of escaping such a draconian punishment.

Lees went on to recall incidences where she said Justice Levers had used what she said was not only “inappropriate and irrelevant comments” regarding defendants and witnesses but ones that were “also offensive". Describing an incident where Levers reportedly queried a victim’s pending status grant, Lees said the judge had asked, “Can’t someone object?” Lees said she felt, given the fact that the women in question had been beaten so severely by her former husband she was hospitalized for months, that saying she didn’t deserve Caymanian status was unnecessary. However,  through his questions Brodie suggested it was an observation and one which carried little weight given that the Justice had gone on to hand down a very severe sentence to the victim’s attacker.

During the day’s proceedings the tribunal also heard from three women who had been before Justice Levers in family court, all of whom said they felt that the justice was biased against them. However, during his cross examination of their statements Brodie raised the possibility each time that their complaints had more to do with their disagreement with the judge’s ruling which was not fully in their favour rather than genuine cases of bias. In each case he also indicated that they had recorded dissatisfaction with their own legal representatives and how they had presented their cases. He and his junior council, Anthony Akiwumi, who also questioned witnesses, reminded them that is was the judge’s role to examine both sides in family matters.

In one case a witness said she felt that the judge had accused her of hostility and had also tried to belittle her by giving her a shawl to cover herself because she was wearing a skirt that came above her knees. After cross examination of her statement by Brodie, the witness acknowledged that the judge’s ruling had however resulted in a relatively successful outcome for her child despite her perceived feelings of the judge’s behaviour.

As each of the witnesses was questioned throughout the day, Brodie was able to raise doubt, not just on the veracity of the submissions but also an alternative view of what they had presented as bias.

Picking up from where he left off on Thursday afternoon questioning court reporter Carol Rouse, whose statements form a considerable part of the tribunal’s case, Brodie accused her of deliberately conspiring with another member of the court staff against the judge. Brodie noted that while she may have been upset about specific incidences, no one else in the court room appeared to agree. Brodie asked her to recall a complaint she had made about the way Justice Levers had taken a prosecutor to task for not being robed correctly in the court. Rouse said that as a result of the incident, which she said was very upsetting, the whole day had been tense and difficult.

However, Brodie produced a witness statement from the lawyer, who said that it was indeed correct that he was not properly robed and had not consideredJustice Levers’ reprimand inappropriate and had thought no more about it.  The reporter,however, suggested that the lawyers would not complain about the judge for fear of getting a bad reputation for themselves or their firms, and this was true of prosecutors because they were often seeking to move into private practice.

On a number of other occasions Brodie noted that Rouse’s opinion of the judge’s behaviour may be because she didn’t understand the legal implications of the questioning.  “You are a court reporter but are you legally qualified?” he asked, and Rouse confirmed she was not a qualified lawyer. “Yet you regard yourself qualified to pass judgement on judges,” he stated. Rouse replied, “I regard myself qualified to have an opinion.”

Pointing to changes and amendments in her statement, as well as the accusations she had made about the Justice being biased against women only to complain on another occasion that she was biased in favour of a women defendant, Brodie said Rouse’s statement was “hopelessly inconsistent and not true".

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  1. Tribunal getting truth? says:

    As a general comment it does seem that the Tribunal is getting a skewed version of the evidence rather than actively investigating the truth.  There seems much more active cross-examination by the Judge’s lawyers and litte, if any, fact gathering or more importantly re-examination of the factual witnesses by the other legal team.  I am not saying this to say who is right or wrong but rather that these proceedings doseem to be somewhat uneven.

    CNS: This is a tribunal not a court room.

  2. Nicky Watson says:

    As with the first and future reports on the tribunal, we will not be posting comments about the procedings or the the participants, except in the most general terms.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It represents a new phase in the history of the judicial system in the Cayman Islands that a sitting judge would have their behavior on the bench questioned. Regardless of the outcome there are winds of change in the Cayman Islands.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Do you feel your wallet burning again?

  5. Anonymous says:


    I, like countless others, appreciate you for having raised the bar in bringing news quickly to us. But, with respect, speed may bring its dangers. If one reads the Compass version of events-much fuller than yours- one gets a different picture of what was said and how the to and fro between lawyers and witnesses went. And one doesn’t get a comment such as in paragraph 10 of your report, which in effect leads your reader to an opinion rather than letting the facts speak forthemselves. Your reporter maybe felt that "Brodie was able to raise doubt etc" but that is his/her opinion; it may not be the opinion of the Tribunal or indeed others present so wouldn’t it be better just to report what was said and let people make up their own minds?

    Keep up the excellent work!

    CNS: Thank you for your comments. It’s inevitable that in reporting a very intense 6-hour session that no two reporters will produce exactly the same report – unless the article is 10,000 words long it means that each will have to decide what to report verbatim, what to summarise and what to leave out. So I’m sure that avid followers of the tribunal like yourself will read all reports in all the media.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Now why is there an inquiry and not a non contract renewal?

    • Anonymous says:

      With regard as to the question as to why there is an inquiry and not a contract nonrenewal, as I understand it, Justice Levers has a five-year contract with a few more years to go before consideration for renewal.