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
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power