National Security Minister Wayne Caines, issued a statement last night (Monday) to back track on his criticism of Bermuda’s outgoing Chief Justice Ian Kawaley over a court staffing crisis.

In a statement issued on Monday night, the Minister said: “I felt compelled to publicly note that comments spoken during Friday’s Motion to Adjourn were not a personal attack on the The Hon Dr Ian Kawaley Chief Justice of Bermuda.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley

“As a matter of fact, I hold the Chief Justice in very high regard, both personally and professionally.

“For clarity, my comments on Friday’s Motion to Adjourn centred around two key issues – the locus of responsibility for Bermuda’s court administration and staffing levels, as well as the critical importance of succession planning for the country.”

He noted that “a public statement was sent out by the Acting Registrar, Alexandra Wheatley, wherein she advised that the courts and administration offices would likely be closed for significant periods during the summer because of so many unfilled vacancies in the department”.

“I note with concern that that situation will adversely affect the administration of justice for all.  

“My initial point centred around the looming reduction in court opening hours and staffing shortages this summer, which underlines a larger problem that points directly to the leadership, and administration of the courts, or the lack thereof,” said Mr Caines.

“I spoke directly to the fact that the administration of the courts was the responsibility of the Chief Justice. 

Bermuda Real File Photo

“The administration of the Magistrate’s Court, as well as the administration of the Supreme Court and Registrar’s offices are both included within his sphere of responsibilities. Any problem in filling posts cannot be laid at the feet of the Government or of the Attorney General.”

The Minister’s statement continued: “As the most senior member responsible for the administration of the courts.

“The Chief Justice is accountable for assuring that the vacancies are filled,” said Mr Caines.

“It is my belief that rather than allowing the Acting Registrar to issue a public statement without discussion with the Attorney General, the Chief Justice would have been better served to engage a more appropriate solution-oriented mechanism to deal with the challenge.

“The second concern that I articulated on Friday, centred around the training of Bermudians to take on leadership posts.

“I made specific comments to the Magistrate’s Courts that do not have a clear plan of succession and no opportunities for Bermudians to rise to leadership posts.  There are a number of significant positions held by persons who have passed retirement age.  

“My exact same concerns were highlighted in the Supreme Court where there is no plan of succession or opportunities for Bermudians to serve in the Supreme Court.”

While noted that he has the “highest regard for the incoming Chief Justice Narinder Hargun”, he said: “This was not an attack on the individual, nor was my commentary based on the ethnicity of the incoming Chief Justice.

“The comments were squarely and solely around this Chief Justice leaving without a clear plan of succession in place for Bermudians in both the Magistrate’s and Supreme Courts. 

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“The lack of planning for the magistracy and supreme court bench speaks voluminously about what is deemed a priority here.  It would be disappointing if at the end of his tenure in the highest post in our judiciary, our current Chief Justice’s remarkable legacy would end without a pathway laid for the next Bermudian Chief Justice to emerge.”

On that note he said: “We have thousands of young Bermudians – students here and abroad as well as professionals within the civil service and the private sector. 

“They are watching our leadership and are keen to see if there is a place for them at the table as leaders of our key industries and of course within our esteemed judicial system.

“We must hold our leaders accountable for prioritising the succession planning and development  so that there is a place for us in the top jobs in our country.”

On Friday, Mr Cianes told MPs: “Like a thief that comes in the night, whilst he is on vacation, the Acting Registrar sends out a missive in a press release.

“That, with the greatest of respect, is not how a leader, a Chief Justice, conducts business.”

He also stated that the PLP administration would not tolerate Justice Kawaley trying to blame the judicial system’s “disarray” on the Government.

The Minister’s statement was released yesterday by Brand Lion, a private PR firm, rather than the Department of Communications, which is responsible for ministerial releases.