Gibraltar’s chief justice should go after “disreputable” behaviour

Justice Derek Schofield

Gibraltar’s Chief Justice Derek Schofield was suspended from his duties in September 2007 after four Gibraltar firms wrote to the territory’s Governor Sir Robert Fulton expressing “deep concern” at how Schofield J had conducted his responsibilities.

The Privy Council became involved when Fulton appointed an independent tribunal to examine Scholfield J’s conduct.

The seven-strong Privy Council, which was chaired by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, ruled: “We’ve reached the conclusion that the actions of the Chief Justice and his wife have rendered his position as Chief Justice of Gibraltar untenable.”

The judgment continued: “The conduct of the Chief Justice has brought him and his office into disrepute.

“The Tribunal had evidence and submissions from a large proportion of those who practise in the courts of Gibraltar that in their perception his conduct had adversely affected his ability to carry out his duties and functions and that it would be inimical to the due administration of justice in Gibraltar if he remained in office.”

Fulton had asked the tribunal, which was chaired by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, to specifically “report on whether the Chief Justice of Gibraltar is unable to discharge the functions of his office by reason of inability or for misbehaviour”.

The tribunal’s conclusions were damning and said that the Chief Justice should be removed from office.

“It hardly needs to be pointed out that integrity is essential to the proper charge of the judicial office,” the report said.

At the heart of the matter was Schofield J’s response to the introduction of the Judicial Service Act, passed in July 2007, which stripped the Chief Justice of his powers as head of the judiciary. The act laid out that the powers should instead be handed to Sir Murray Smith, head of Gibraltar’s Court of Appeal.

Schofield J vehemently opposed the reforms, arguing that they would deprive the Gibraltar judiciary of its independence and make the head of the judiciary a political appointment.

The council found that the Chief Justice had shared the documentation with his wife expecting her to go public, behaviour that was deemed unbefitting of a judge.

Blackstone Chambers’ Michael Beloff QC, instructed by Gibraltar-based Charles Gomez & Co and Carter Ruck, represented Schofield J at both the tribunal and his appeal to the Privy Council.

Clifford Chance partner Michael Smyth instructed Timothy Otty QC of 20 Essex Street to represent Fulton.

Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC acted for the Government of Gibraltar.