UPDATED: Legal council has no jurisdiction over attorneys appointed judges - appeal court
Jamaica's second-highest court has ruled that it is not desirable, in the interest of the public, for the disciplinary committee of the General Legal Council (GLC) to retain or exercise jurisdiction over an attorney following his/her appointment to serve as a judge.
The ruling was made by the Court of Appeal in a legal challenge filed by retired Parish Court Judge Jennes Anderson against two decisions handed down by the disciplinary committee of the GLC in a case that started 15 years ago while she was an attorney employed to The Gleaner Company.
"The appellant's [Anderson] appointment to judicial office placed her in a peculiar position, one wholly different from that of an attorney-at-law," the court ruled.
"And as such, at the time of her appointment, she was no longer accountable to the GLC, neither did the [disciplinary] committee have the power to execute disciplinary actions against her," it added.
Anderson was appointed to serve as a parish judge by the Judicial Service Commission on March 1, 2005.
But 16 months after her appointment, a complaint was made to the GLC alleging that Anderson was in breach of the regulations governing the legal profession for failing to file an accountant report with the secretariat for the five financial years between 2000 and 2004.
Court documents indicate that the declarations were filed in May 2007 and, following a decision by the United Kingdom-based Privy Council in a related case, the complaint against Anderson was relisted for hearing by the GLC, despite an application to have it withdrawn.
According to the court documents, the complainant indicated that she wanted to withdraw the case as Anderson had explained, that she was a salaried employee and did not collect trust money from clients. In addition, the complainant asserted, in an affidavit to the GLC, that there was "no useful purpose" in pursuing the case, as Anderson had been appointed a parish judge and as the situation was rectified.
But the GLC refused the complainant's request and, after a hearing, the retired parish judge was found guilty of professional misconduct.
She was reprimanded and ordered to pay the GLC $200,000 and $150,000 to the attorney who represented the complainant.
Anderson, through her attorney Rachel Dibbs, challenged the decisions, arguing that the disciplinary panel failed to appreciate that in 2006 she was no longer an attorney as defined by the Legal Profession Act. The retired parish judge argued, too, that the panel wrongly considered that it continued to have jurisdiction over her because the alleged complaints arose while she was at the private Bar and prior to her appointment.
The Court of Appeal sided with Anderson. "Counsel for the appellant was correct when she argued that the committee had no jurisdiction over the appellant at the time it commenced hearing disciplinary proceedings against her, as by then, she had been appointed a judicial officer," the court ruled.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that, 15 years ago, Jennes Anderson was employed to a law firm. At the time, Mrs Anderson was employed to The Gleaner Company.)