As we reported yesterday, the Privy Council has, by a majority of 4 to 3, decided that the Chief Justice of Gibraltar should be removed from office.  The former Chief Justice has issued a statement in response this judgment.   He expressed his disappointment  at the result but added that he “draws comfort from the content and strength of the report of the minority”.   He is pictured to the right, with this wife, human rights lawyer Anne Schofield whose actions and statements lie at the heart of the case.

The Government of Gibraltar said that it “welcomed the decision of the Privy Council which fully vindicates the decisive but measured approach in this matter”.   There is a report of these statements in today’s Gibraltar Chronicle.  It is also reported that the Governor is now seeking the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.

The local Spanish press has commented under the headline El ‘Privy Council’confirma la suspensión del juez supremo Schofield

The English press has been curiously silent about these convulsions in a British Overseas Territory.  It has now been picked up by Frances Gibb in the Times.  In a piece entitled “Top Scots judges split over Gibraltar Chief Justice” the Times law blog, Law Central, also draws attention to the difference of view between the Scottish chairman of the Tribunal in Gibraltar, Lord Cullen and the two Scots Justices who formed part of the minority in the JCPC

The removal of a Chief Justice is, by any standards, a most unusual event.  No English Chief Justice has been removed since Sir Edward Coke in 1616 – and no High Court judge in the United Kingdom has been subject to compulsory removal since Sir Jonah Barrington, a judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland, was removed from office in 1830 after being convicted of appropriating for his own use funds paid into court.  An interesting discussion of the history by Sir Henry Brooke can be found here. 

The Schofield case reveals and unfortunate breakdown in personal relationships in a small jurisdiction.  Nevertheless, the removal of a judge in relation to who “no question has ever been raised as to [his] … judicial ability to resolve issues of fact and law” (para 222) on the basis that he is unable to discharge the functions of his office seems to be unprecedented.   It remains to be seen whether the Chief Justice will seek to pursue the matter in the Court of Human Rights.