A HIGH Court judge has stepped aside from a long-running dispute involving cement giant CRH, after a rival firm raised concerns about the judge's ownership of the company's shares.
Mr Justice John Cooke, who returned to Ireland in 2008 after serving for 12 years as a judge in the European Court of First Instance, has been managing the bitter competition law case between Goode Concrete and CRH for two years.
Mr Justice Cooke had already handed down three written rulings on preliminary issues in the litigation when Goode sought to bring a motion requesting his recusal, or removal from the case.
Mr Justice Cooke stepped aside after Goode expressed concern that the purchase of CRH shares on behalf of the judge raised a reasonable apprehension of objective bias.
It emerged that some CRH shares were bought on his behalf after the litigation commenced.
In a terse statement, Mr Justice Cooke said that the motion for him to recuse himself from hearing the case was not necessary. He stressed that he had told both Goode and CRH in November 2010 – when he took up the case – that he had had a CRH shareholding.
Neither side raised any difficulty with that at that time, he said yesterday.
It later transpired from "investigations" by the Goode side that an additional purchase of CRH shares was made on his behalf on December 6, 2010.
Mr Justice Cooke said he was unaware at that time that shares in CRH were also about to be bought on his behalf. He said it was done by advisers as part of a package of several shareholdings. He said that in 2010 he was aware some of his monies were being put into investments but he was not following those on a daily basis.
Mr Justice Cooke told lawyers for Goode that they would have "to take my word for it" that he was unaware of the CRH share purchase. Stepping aside, he gave a detailed explanation of the management of his financial affairs.
Now that concern had been voiced, the case would have to be transferred to another judge, which would take time, he said.
Senior Counsel John Hennessy, for Goode Concrete, told Mr Justice Cooke that he was grateful to the judge for the "candour" with which he had addressed the matter.
Mr Hennessy said he wanted to make clear no insinuation was intended that there was anything wrongful in what the court did, and the application for the judge to recuse himself from hearing the case was on the basis of a reasonable apprehension of objective bias.
Senior Counsel Paul Sreenan, for CRH, said the issue was for the court. This did not mean CRH was to be taken as agreeing there was any basis for the application.