October 21, 2020

Letter to the Editor


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Hon. Anthony Smellie (Photo by Bina Mani)

Dear Sir,

Recently, for the first time in the long history of the Courts of these Islands, comments have been made publicly which bring into question the integrity of decisions of the Courts.

While the great majority of the responses which have followed in the media (most notably, perhaps, by Mr. Ramon Alberga QC) identify the inappropriateness of such comments, persistent debate in the media and in the wider community calls for a response from the judiciary itself.

This letter offers what I trust will be accepted as an appropriate response.

Confronted by the current unprecedented wave of armed violence, it is entirely natural that everyone will be concerned for the loss of our common sense of security – that sense of security that few places could offer as steadfastly as did these Islands.

Our common security will not, however, be regained by futile and misguided attempts to deflect blame away from one arm of law enforcement to another.

The rhetoric that seeks to blame acquittals by the Court for criminal conduct is not only misleading and misguided, it is also itself potentially harmful in the far-reaching and fundamental sense that it would invite a loss of confidence in the administration of justice in these Islands.

This is so not only in respect of the particular decision under scrutiny, but also with regard to subsequent decisions of convictions that may arise.  This is because it could lead observers to begin to question whether the decisions themselves merely reflect the judges’ responses to the pressure of criticism.

It is in that context that I believe the people of these Islands are most requiring of a response by way of assurance from the judiciary and this I now proffer: the judges and magistrates of the Cayman Islands will remain faithful to their Constitutional oaths of office no matter what the criticisms and no matter what the consequences.

I should also remind the public here what the judicial oath of office requires:  judges will “well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors and the people of the Cayman Islands, and will do right to all manner of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help [us] God.”

In a criminal trial, what the oath therefore requires is the returning of a true verdict according to the evidence and the applicable law.

But not even by virtue of that solemn oath may the members of the judiciary claim to be infallible — they can claim only to do their very best to be true to their oaths.

The question of whether judges are right or wrong is a question of law.  The law ensures that judges are immediately and uniquely accountable — in a way that no other arm of Government is — by way of appeal.  And the appeal process is hierarchical:  going up in the typical case, from a single judge (or judge and jury) to three judges and, then, finally, to five (in the Privy Council). This process ensures the greatest likelihood that the cases which involve matters of far-reaching consequences for persons and that are of fundamental importance to the society as a whole are properly decided.

That is how our system of justice is intended to work — under the rule of law.

It is a system that has worked remarkably well for centuries.  It both requires and deserves the respect and trust of the people of these Islands; this holds true no less so than for the other agencies involved in our relentless struggle for law enforcement against those who would bring violence and anarchy into our midst.

It is only by our common efforts and mutual respect for the law and for its institutions that we may prevent them from succeeding.

Hon. Anthony Smellie

Chief Justice


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