Gibraltar's ruling elite puts top judge in the dock

Chief justice claims dossier of charges against him is malicious, as tribunal meets to hear complaints stretching back a decade

The tiny community of Gibraltar is embroiled in a bitter dispute between its chief judge and the powerful establishment figures that run the British territory. At the heart of the row is the reluctance of the territory's chief justice to go along with legal reforms drawn up by the Gibraltar government.

Now Chief Justice Derek Schofield, who has been suspended from his post, faces removal from office after his critics produced a 157-page dossier of complaints, some more than 10 years old. Judge Schofield's supporters claim the case against him is either "demonstrably false" or "malicious".

Tomorrow, Gibraltar's chief minister, Peter Caruana, will confront him at a disciplinary tribunal specially convened to hear the allegations, which include a minor motoring offence, the judge's reluctance to greet the chief minister officially during Christmas visits to the Gibraltar courtrooms and complaints that the judge's wife was too outspoken.

By vigorously defending his judicial independence and challenging the controversial Judicial Services Act, a wide-ranging reform of the judiciary, Judge Schofield is understood to have made enemies among the ruling elite.

The case, which is estimated to cost up to £3m, is being played out amid the splendours of a converted ballroom on Gibraltar's famous Mount, where QCs from London have been flown in to take part in the proceedings. One of the world's leading law firms, Clifford Chance, is acting as solicitor to the tribunal headed by Lord Cullen.

The tribunal has heard a series of claims and counterclaims about the chief justice, including complaints about his objections to Christmas visits by the chief minister to courtroom staff, which he said were inappropriate. According to a former attorney general, Katherine Dawson, the visits were traditional and good for staff morale. Ms Dawson, who said she was accused by Judge Schofield of being an MI6 spy, spoke of a tense atmosphere among court staff, who were "intimidated" by the chief justice's strong views on the issue.

The deputy registrar, Clive Mendez, told the hearing last week that he held Judge Schofield in high personal regard, but that his position as Gibraltar's top judge had become "untenable". Although the chief justice was hard-working, controversy surrounding his post made it difficult for him to stay on, Mr Mendez said. He emphasised the chief justice had "always treated staff properly". Other tribunal allegations relate to allegedly "extreme" statements made by Mrs Schofield, a lawyer, about the Judicial Services Act and the principle of judicial independence. Critics said the judge should have at least dissociated himself from her remarks. The judge's critics claim he was concerned about the impact of the Act on his own employment. The chief justice abused his position by challenging the Act, they insist.

Antony White, QC, representing the law firms whose complaint to the governor sparked the process leading to the tribunal, claimed the chief justice regularly became "embroiled" in public controversy. He said the judge had occasionally provided material to the press which fuelled public disagreement, instead of stepping back to let the row ease off, as his position required. Mr White said both the chief justice and his wife had "personalised" their objection to the Judicial Services Act by describing it as a legal attempt to drive the judge from office.

James Eadie, QC, for the Gibraltar government, denied the claim the law undermined the judiciary. "Neither the chief minister nor anyone else in the government has ever sought to remove or to hound out the chief justice," he said. The chief justice had failed to demonstrate the "care, restraint and responsibility" that his post demanded, he told the tribunal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test