Hitting the books: Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said the new panel is more about dealing with judges being rude or impoliteness. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead
Hitting the books: Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said the new panel is more about dealing with judges being rude or impoliteness. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

Judges could be taken to task for bad behaviour and offensive comments under a new initiative to boost public confidence in the judiciary.

Under the Judicial Complaints Protocol, islanders will be able to file official complaints about inappropriate conduct inside court.

Judges may have to undergo special training if a complaint is upheld.

Complainants might receive an apology, counselling or even medical treatment if their claim is proved.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley told the Bermuda Sun: “There is nothing like this protocol in existence at the moment in Bermuda. There is a big gap in the disciplinary framework and it is not very transparent. Any minor complaint, which falls short of a complaint that arguably justifies removal, cannot be formally dealt with at all.

“The protocol will seek to create a procedure for complaints to be made about judicial misconduct that is more accessible to the public.”

Mr Kawaley added: “The protocol is based on the premise that judges should be subject to criticism in circumstances where their behaviour in court, or outside of court, undermines the high standards expected.  It will not be retrospective.

“This process is not a licence for disgruntled litigants who are unhappy with the way judges have handled their case; that type of complaint is properly taken through the appeal process.

“This is more about matters related to rudeness or impoliteness or other breaches of the ‘Guidelines for Judicial Conduct’, which go to the conduct of the judge and are inconsistent with the way judges are expected to behave.”

The protocol will be published and take effect at the beginning of 2014.

It has been produced by the new Judicial and Legal Services Committee that was appointed by the Governor on November 1.

A filtering sub-committee will assess the merits of complaints and if a complaint is found to be admissible or arguable it will be investigated and adjudicated by another sub-committee.

Mr Kawaley said: “Judges do have to be careful about what they say during sentencing.

“One of the ways judges can be guided as to when comments may cause unacceptable offence to people, based on their gender, sexual orientation or race, is to have formal guidance on equality and diversity issues.

“The judiciary in England and Wales has a Bench Book that sets out guidelines specifically aimed at telling judges how unintentional offence may be caused.

“That is something we don’t have yet but I would hope we would be able to adopt by the end of 2014.”

The Chief Justice told the Sun: “It’s a very difficult line to draw, especially when the primary function of a judge dealing with sentence is to attribute responsibility for the offence.

“The most serious penalty that can be imposed either by the President of the Court of Appeal or the Chief Justice will be admonishment or other remedial measures.

“This is a significant step in terms of the judiciary becoming accountable in a formal way we have never been before.

“There are risks involved in the judiciary adopting this but it has been done in the confidence that our standards are already quite high.

“It will also protect judges by allowing them to be confronted with any shortcomings before they reach the threshold of something more serious.”