Re­port or­dered on judge’s din­ner at­ten­dance

Supreme Court asks for­mer chief jus­tice Su­san Den­ham to con­sider ques­tions around Clif­den golf din­ner

Irish Examiner - - News - Cor­mac O’Ke­effe and Ryan O’Rourke

Judges place great em­pha­sis on public con­fi­dence in ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice, be­cause ul­ti­mately the whole sys­tem falls apart if the public do not have con­fi­dence in the sys­tem

The Supreme Court has asked for­mer chief jus­tice Su­san Den­ham to cre­ate a re­port on Mr Jus­tice Séa­mus Woulfe’s at­ten­dance at last week’s Oireach­tas Golf So­ci­ety din­ner in Gal­way.

Ms Jus­tice Den­ham will re­port her con­clu­sions and rec­om­men­da­tions to Chief Jus­tice Frank Clarke.

She has been asked to con­sider:

■ Whether Mr Jus­tice Woulfe should have ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion to din­ner;

■ Whether he should, in all the cir­cum­stances, have left the ho­tel in “the light of the sit­u­a­tion pre­vail­ing”;

■ Whether he should have at­tended the golf event with­out at­tend­ing the din­ner.

“In the con­text of those ques­tions Ms Jus­tice Den­ham has also been asked to con­sider whether there are any rel­e­vant codes of prac­tice or guide­lines and to make any rec­om­men­da­tions in that re­gard which she con­sid­ers ap­pro­pri­ate,” said the Supreme Court in a state­ment.

“This non-statu­tory ap­proach has been ne­ces­si­tated be­cause of the fact that rel­e­vant sec­tions of the Ju­di­cial Coun­cil Act, 2019 have not yet been com­menced.”

The com­ments fol­low mount­ing con­cerns across political par­ties at the be­hav­iour of the judge, in­clud­ing calls on him to con­sider his po­si­tion and for the ju­di­ciary to deal with the is­sue.

Mr Jus­tice Woulfe, who was the at­tor­ney gen­eral un­til last June, at­tended a din­ner hosted by the Oireach­tas Golf So­ci­ety at a Gal­way ho­tel last Wed­nes­day, which was at­tended by more than 80 peo­ple.

Gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions, in­tro­duced while Mr Jus­tice Woulfe was at­tor­ney gen­eral, made it a crim­i­nal of­fence for some­one to or­gan­ise an event hold­ing more than 50 peo­ple.

In an un­re­served apol­ogy for “any un­in­ten­tional breach” of public health guide­lines, the judge said it was his un­der­stand­ing that the or­gan­is­ers and the ho­tel

had sat­is­fied them­selves they were op­er­at­ing within the guide­lines.

A Garda in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der way into the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the event.

Laura Cahillane, a lec­turer in con­sti­tu­tional law, with a spe­cial­ism in ju­di­cial dis­ci­pline, said there is “very lit­tle” that can be done un­der the law in re­la­tion to a judge.

She said the only for­mal le­gal process is un­der Ar­ti­cle 35.4.1 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which states that a judge can only be re­moved for “stated mis­be­haviour or in­ca­pac­ity” on res­o­lu­tions of the Dáil and Seanad.

Ms Cahillane said this is a “nu­clear op­tion” and that such a re­moval has “never ac­tu­ally hap­pened” and that it only came close in the Judge Brian Curtin case in 2004-2006.

Ms Cahillane said judges do not ig­nore political and public com­men­tary.

“Judges place great em­pha­sis on public con­fi­dence in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice, be­cause ul­ti­mately the whole sys­tem falls apart if the public do not have con­fi­dence in the sys­tem.”

Ms Cahillane said the Ju­di­cial Coun­cil Act does lay out a dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dure for judges, but said the sec­tion has not been com­menced yet, and that guide­lines on con­duct and ethics are due by July 2021.

Ear­lier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin was asked whether there is an op­tion for the Dáil to ap­point a se­lect com­mit­tee to ex­am­ine Mr Jus­tice Woulfe’s be­hav­iour.

Mr Martin said on RTÉ ra­dio that there is a sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers and that the Gov­ern­ment does not im­pose its will on the ju­di­ciary.

“We’ve been busily crit­i­cis­ing, at Euro­pean level, coun­tries like Hun­gary and Poland and others, for what has been a creep­ing emas­cu­la­tion of the ju­di­ciary in their coun­tries, an un­der­min­ing of the ju­di­ciary in their coun­tries,” said Mr Martin.

“Th­ese are very im­por­tant con­cepts. They may not read­ily ap­pear so, but... in terms of the gov­ern­ments and par­lia­ments be­com­ing em­broiled in ju­di­cial is­sues,” he said.

“That’s po­ten­tially a slip­pery slope to un­der­min­ing our democ­racy.”

Mr Jus­tice Sea­mus Woulfe, who at­tended the Oireach­tas Golf So­ci­ety din­ner in Clif­den, Co Gal­way, last Wed­nes­day; and Ms Jus­tice Su­san Den­ham, who has been asked to re­port on the judge’s at­ten­dance.

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