Saturday, August 07, 2010

Dismissing judges for misconduct

I imagine that all experienced barristers are familiar with bad judicial behaviour. But how bad does it have to be before a judge can be removed from office?

In Madam Justice Levers, Hearing on the Report of (The Cayman Islands) [2010] UKPC 24 (29 July 2010) the criterion for removal from office was set out [50]:

"The public rightly expects the highest standard of behaviour from a judge, but the protection of judicial independence demands that a judge shall not be removed for misbehaviour unless the judge has fallen so far short of that standard of behaviour as to demonstrate that he or she is not fit to remain in office. The test is whether the confidence in the justice system of those appearing before the judge or the public in general, with knowledge of the material circumstances, will be undermined if the judge continues to sit – see Therrien v Canada (Minister for Justice) [2001] 2 SCR 3. If a judge, by a course of conduct, demonstrates an inability to behave with due propriety misbehaviour can merge into incapacity."

An incident that of itself would have justified the judge's removal from office occurred during a sentencing hearing when the judge made disparaging comments about a complainant and people of her race. These comments [64]

"... 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 [her] ... 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."

We all know that judicial behaviour tends to improve towards the appellate end of the hierarchy.

We are currently going through our own little trauma here, and it seems to be something that blew up out of a very minor error of judgement. Of course I would never read email messages that were not intended for my eyes, but if I did I would be fascinated by the glimpse they gave of the concerns of top ranking QCs. Private and professional lives, friendships and high legal principles, confidentiality and its limits, the individual and the integrity of the courts. The magnification of error by stress, the struggle for a proper perspective.