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Caines: Chief Justice a thief in the night

Heavily criticised: politicians hit out at Chief Justice Ian Kawaley in the House of Assembly (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Public criticism of court staffing by Ian Kawaley, the Chief Justice, was branded “cowardice” in the House of Assembly last Friday.

Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, slammed the island’s top judge as Progressive Labour Party politicians accused Mr Justice Kawaley of failing to create opportunities for Bermudians.

The views were made public after Mr Justice Kawaley and Acting Registrar Alexandra Wheatley said in a joint statement that successive attorneys-general had failed to tackle a staffing crisis that had crippled the court system.

Mr Caines said that Mr Justice Kawaley had not made it his “first port of call” to meet with Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons or the director of human resources to highlight his concerns.

Mr Caines said: “Like a thief that comes in the night, whilst he is on vacation, the Acting Registrar sends out a missive in a press release. That, with the greatest of respect, is not how a leader, a Chief Justice, conducts business.”

He added that the PLP administration would not tolerate Mr Justice Kawaley trying to blame the judicial system’s “disarray” on the Government.

Mr Caines told MPs that court administration was the dominion of the Chief Justice.

He added: “Anything short of that is an abdication of his responsibility.”

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch accused the Chief Justice of sitting “silent and mute for five years” and “all of a sudden, as you are about to exit stage left, you find your voice”.

The Minister of Public Works told MPs he believed it was “something to do with who is sitting on government benches”.

Colonel Burch accused Mr Justice Kawaley of failing to nurture a successor, resulting in the controversial appointment of status Bermudian Narinder Hargun.

He said that if the Chief Justice wanted his legacy to be “something people remember fondly regardless of their political persuasion, you must produce somebody to take your place other than an Indian”.

Colonel Burch added: “I am always disappointed actually when we have successful and successive Bermudians leave a job and have to be replaced by somebody you have not nurtured and cultivated in order to take your place. That means you are a failure.”

He called on Mr Justice Kawaley to create opportunities for “some of those competent people that are currently knocking on the door”.

Colonel Burch added: “You have people in this court who are over the age of retirement, who on an annual contract come into this country and disrespect our people from the bench. Send them into retirement.”

He also told MPs that the closure of 113 Front Street, which housed the Court of Appeal until last month, for health and safety reasons was “reflective on the occupants of that building”.

He said a health inspector had identified 20 issues on May 29 “that were also identified in September 2016”, which included a “highly poor state of housekeeping, summarily unacceptable state of hygiene and sanitation”.

Trevor Moniz, Attorney-General under the One Bermuda Alliance Government, said that it was “laughable” for PLP MPs to suggest that it was the first time that Mr Justice Kawaley had criticised the Government.

Mr Moniz said that during his three years as Attorney-General, it had seemed that the Chief Justice was “criticising me constantly”.

He urged the Government not to take offence but to focus instead on solving the problem.

Mr Moniz added that the real issue with the Supreme Court was that it was “fragmented”, with “a lot of duplication of tasks.”

David Burt, the Premier, called it “very funny” for Mr Moniz to suggest the Government should not be defensive, and said the 22 vacant court posts “didn’t happen in the last ten months”.

He added that out of the 18 requests received to approve hires for the courts, he had approved 17.

Mr Burt added: “The only request denied was a request for a parking ticket clerk.”

Mr Justice Kawaley issued a statement on Friday thanking Ms Simmons for new court rules and legislation to improve court proceedings.

He acknowledged his earlier broadside, which had prompted Ms Simmons to respond that 52 of the 66 posts at the Judicial Department had been filled, but added that it was important to publicly express his appreciation “for enhanced legislative support the Honourable Attorney-General and her Chambers have provided to the Judiciary since her appointment in relation to the Evidence (Audio-Visual Link) Act and the drafting and publication of new Court rules”.