Judge faces removal from bench

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands, Friday July 30, 2010 – A female judge in the Cayman Islands faces being kicked off the bench after the United Kingdom Privy Council ruled that her misconduct has made her no longer fit to serve.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council recommended that Madam Justice Priya Levers be removed, more than two years after complaints of misbehavior were first made against her. The committee said the judge had made comments in court “which ranged from the inappropriate to the outrageous about those who appeared before her and to her own colleagues.”

The Governor of the Cayman Islands had appointed a tribunal in September 2008, to look into the complaints made against Justice Levers five months earlier. In August 2009, the tribunal advised the Governor to refer the matter to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and, after a four-day hearing last month, that body has given its advice.

“The Board is satisfied that by her misconduct Levers J showed that she was not fit to continue to serve as a Judge of the Grand Court and humbly advises Her Majesty that she should be removed from that office on the ground of her misbehavior,” it said on its website yesterday.

In its ruling, the Judicial Committee said that the judge has many admirable qualities: “She is a sound lawyer. She is industrious and she sets high standards. She had many admirers at the court,” it said, referring to witnesses who spoke highly of her.

But it said there were “fatal flaws” in her judicial career.

“Levers J has high standards and shows strong disapproval for those whom she does not consider measure up to them. That disapproval has extended both to some who have appeared in her court and to her own colleagues. Unfortunately, she has not kept that disapproval to herself. It has led her repeatedly to make in court comments that have ranged from the inappropriate to the outrageous about those who have appeared before her and, on two occasions, about her judicial colleagues,” the Judicial Committee noted. 

“So far as those who appeared in her court were concerned, the disapproval and inappropriate comments in evidence before the Board appear to have been directed predominantly against women, and particularly women from outside the Cayman Islands,” it added.

The ruling identified one instance at a sentencing hearing in May 2007 in which the judge repeatedly interrupted the mitigation of a lawyer representing a man who admitted to causing serious bodily harm to his Jamaican girlfriend, to berate the woman in her absence.

Her comments and behaviour were so blatant, that the court reporter at the time drew it to the attention of the Chief Justice, writing that “despite the defendant pleading guilty, Justice Levers seemed to turn the focus of the proceedings on the female victim and seemed to indicate she had brought it on herself”. 

“I had never seen anything like this in my 14 years of court reporting. In my opinion Justice Levers appears to have a problem with Jamaican women,” she wrote.

The Judicial Committee agreed.

“There was no justification whatsoever for this series of interventions, which flagrantly violated the Bangalore principles. They showed bias, and indeed contempt, for Jamaicans which extended not merely to the defendant but to his victim who, happily, was not in court. The comments about (the victim) were monstrous,  suggesting that she should have been sent “home”, describing her as “a woman like that” and accusing her of “spreading her goodwill around” – a clear allegation of promiscuity,” it said.

However, the Judicial Committee insisted that “it would not be right to deduce from those instances any race or gender bias on the part of Levers J.”

It did say, though, that it agreed with the tribunal that the aforementioned incident constituted misbehaviour that would, of itself, have justified the judge’s removal.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan-born Justice Levers married a Jamaican in 1977 and moved to Jamaica, where she practiced for 27 years. In 2002 she was invited to sit as an additional judge of the Grand Court and in the following year she applied successfully for a permanent appointment to that court. 

Governor Duncan Taylor, who has the task of removing Justice Levers, is expected to make an announcement on the matter on his return to the Cayman Islands next Monday.