Tribunal's report is fundamentally flawed, says Chief Justice
|The Chief Justice has indicated that he will carry on fighting to save his reputation, which raises questions as to whether he will request to argue his case further before the Privy Council when the tribunal's report goes before it next year. He said: "I regard the tribunal's report as fundamentally flawed."
Meanwhile, a report in the Financial Times says: "The top judge in the British tax haven of Gibraltar should be removed, a tribunal has ruled, in a case that highlights growing concerns about how the UK?s offshore financial centres run themselves.
"A panel of three retired senior English judges said Derek Schofield had damaged the reputation of his office and the ?interests of good governance of Gibraltar?, through actions ranging from employing a maid illegally to supporting his wife in a bitter dispute with local lawyers."
Chief Justice Schofield?s case ? now referred to the Privy Council in London ? "comes amid scandals over suspected corruption in British overseas territory offshore financial centres that play key roles in the world financial system," said the paper.
Mr Schofield ?repeatedly fell far short of what befitted the dignity of his office?, the tribunal ruled, in a stinging 207-page report ordered by London last year after a dozen leading Gibraltar lawyers complained about the chief justice?s behaviour.
?By his conduct he has antagonised a large number of those who practise before him,? the tribunal said, in a judgement released on Friday. ?In these circumstances we conclude that the chief justice is unable to discharge the functions of his office.?
The judges said Mr Schofield was guilty of ?judicial misconduct of the most serious kind? in hearing an application last year relating to a libel action launched by his wife, Anne, against the Gibraltar Bar Council.
Mr Schofield?s lawyer could not be reached on Sunday. His counsel, Edward Fitzgerald QC, had told a tribunal that some of the allegations against him were ?demonstrably false?, while others referred to ?events of many years ago of which no complaints were made at the time?.
The report in the Financial Times adds: "The Gibraltar case is one of a series of embarrassing incidents for Britain in its so-called ?pink dots on the map? ? the overseas territories that some see as anachronisms of empire."
Another report, in The Times online, says: The Chief Justice of Gibraltar faces dismissal by five UK law lords after a damning inquiry report by British judges on Friday called for his removal from office.
The unprecedented 207-page report which is devastating in its criticisms has been drawn up by Lord Cullen and two retired senior UK judges, Sir Jonathan Parker and Sir Peter Gibson after a three-week inquiry in July.
They conclude that although public opinion in Gibraltar is not unanimous in its disapproval of his conduct, ?we are in no doubt that its effect has been to polarise public opinion in a way which is damaging to the reputation of the office and thence to the interests of good governance of Gibraltar.?
By his conduct, they add, the Chief Justice is unable to discharge the functions of his office, concluding: ?We are satisfied that this inability warrants the removal of the Chief Justice from office.?
In all the tribunal judges are highly critical of Chief Justice Schofield?s behaviour, condemning him variously for ?lack of judgment? and ?disregard for damage done to the administration of justice in Gibraltar.?
In a statement to The Times the Chief Justice, who also sits as a recorder in England, said: ?I regard the tribunal?s report as fundamentally flawed.
?The matter is now before the Privy Council and I feel restrained from commenting any further on the report, save to say that it raises very important issues of law in relation to judicial independence as well as the freedom of the Chief Justice to speak out in its defence.?
The case will be heard sometime in the New Year at the Privy Council?s courtroom in Downing Street. The Chief Justice remains suspended in the meantime.
In the report the judges say: ?It hardly needs to be pointed out that integrity is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office.?
A judge must maintain high standards in private as well as public life; and his or conduct has to be ?above reproach.?
But the conduct of the Chief Justice ?repeatedly fell far short of what befitted the dignity of his office?, including a tendency to ?over-react to perceived slights.?
The report goes on to condemn Gibraltar?s most senior judge for a ?pre-occupation, bordering on an obsession, with judicial independence. He claimed that it was under threat when this was not the case. This led to his responding in an improper or excessive manner to executive action of which he disapproved.?
Finally, the paper adds that the tribunal's report says that he showed himself indifferent as to the effect or perceived effect ?of his conduct on his relations with the Government and the Bar, the standing of the judiciary and the administration of justice in Gibraltar.?