Lawyers stage shock Supreme Court walkout

  • Former BIU president Ottiwell Simmons is pictured coincidentally as lawyers take their leave of Supreme Court

    Former BIU president Ottiwell Simmons is pictured coincidentally as lawyers take their leave of Supreme Court

  • Lawyering up: the likes of Elizabeth Christopher, Charles Richardson, Larry Mussenden and Craig Attridge stand outside Supreme Court in apparent protest at DPP Rory Field

    Lawyering up: the likes of Elizabeth Christopher, Charles Richardson, Larry Mussenden and Craig Attridge stand outside Supreme Court in apparent protest at DPP Rory Field

In an unprecedented mass walkout, about 15 lawyers protested against the reappointment of Rory Field as Director of Public Prosecutions by leaving a special sitting of Supreme Court.

The walkout included some of the Island’s most recognisable defence lawyers, such as Craig Attridge, Auralee Cassady, Elizabeth Christopher, Marc Daniels, Larry Mussenden and Charles Richardson.

The group waited outside the courtroom during Mr Field’s address of the ceremonial opening of Bermuda’s 2015 legal year.

“Many of us, as fellow Bermudian professionals, were disappointed by the non-appointment of one of our numbers who we know to be perfectly qualified to the position of DPP,” Ms Christopher told The Royal Gazette.

Asked if they faced possible censure for walking out on a court session presided over by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley, with Governor George Fergusson looking on, Ms Christopher replied: “We’re concerned by repercussions, but we have to do what’s right.”

Mr Field was officially reappointed as DPP this month by the Governor, sparking criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

Many had expected Bermudian Cindy Clarke, the long-serving Deputy DPP, to assume the role.

Michael Dunkley, the Premier and National Security Minister, said that he had “strongly expressed” concerns about the reappointment of a non-Bermudian, promising to take the matter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, while Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott described the appointment as a “slap in the face”.

The walkout drew no reaction from Mr Justice Kawaley in what was otherwise an ordinary session. Attorney-General Trevor Moniz had to leave during the proceedings to attend an emergency meeting of Cabinet.

But Government House stood firmly behind Mr Field, with Mr Fergusson applauding his performance over the past two years and expecting more of the same in his next term.

“I firmly support the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Rory Field, as he begins two further years in the role,” Mr Fergusson said.

“He and his able team in the department have achieved and continue to achieve impressive results.

“As he set out at today’s special sitting of the Court, the department’s record is excellent at home, respected internationally and, not least, Bermudians throughout the department have steadily achieved increasing seniority under his leadership. I wish him and his team well.”

Before the afternoon descended into something quite unexpected, Mr Justice Kawaley gave a historical reminder of why they were there.

“Almost exactly 200 years ago, in early January 1815, the Chief Justice, lawyers and jurors attended the spanking new Sessions House building for the opening Assize of the new calendar and legal year,” said Mr Justice Kawaley, who added that the Court had been unable to sit because the room had been co-opted for a celebration of the completion of Sessions House.

“The battle by the Bermudian judiciary for dedicated Court premises may symbolically be viewed as starting in 1815.”

The gathering heard from Mr Moniz that legal reforms were in the works to modernise the Island’s justice system.

Mr Moniz said the population of incarcerated persons had been lowered by the use of electronic monitoring, which the courts wished to expand.

He said Government was committed to affording Police officers greater discretion for dealing with first-time offenders on possession of cannabis, among other offences, as well as bringing in fixed penalties for on-the-spot fines.

Legal aid has “mushroomed”, the Attorney-General added, doubling in cost to $5 million a year, which Mr Moniz called financially unsustainable.

Senior Magistrate Juan Wolffe spoke of the importance of a humanistic approach in Magistrates’ Court, which he likened to “the emergency room or engine room of the judicial system”.

The gathering applauded his commendation of the drug treatment court system. Mr Wolffe added that the pilot mental health courts, although successful, needed to be given “legislative teeth”.

He added: “Hopefully this will take place in the early part of 2015.”

A fee reform committee has been tasked with examining the budget for Magistrates’ Court, which is committed to engaging with the community through mentoring, inviting students to view proceedings and educating the public.

The walkout occurred as Mr Field rose next to speak. Outgoing lawyers bowed to the Chief Justice as they left the room.

After the DPP’s remarks, Justin Williams, president of the Bermuda Bar Association, congratulated Sir Scott Baker as incoming President of the Court of Appeal; Sir Maurice Kay, Justice Patricia Dangor and Justice Desiree Bernard as new Justices of Appeal; Geoffrey Bell QC on his appointment to the Court of Appeal, and Mr Wolffe on his accession to Senior Magistrate.

The Bar Council oversees 448 active members and 70 law firms, Mr Williams noted, with 22 new members admitted in 2014: 14 Bermudians, two spouses of Bermudians and the rest guest lawyers.

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Published Jan 24, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 23, 2015 at 11:29 pm)

Lawyers stage shock Supreme Court walkout

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