independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Kenny asks Shatter to meddle in family case

Niall Collins accuses Taoiseach of 'outrageous failure of judgement'

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny asked Justice Minister Alan Shatter to "intervene" in a court case related to the marriage breakdown of one of his constituents, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Mr Kenny made the extraordinary request of the Justice Minister twice in the past year despite the stringent in-camera rule that protects the privacy of individuals involved in family law proceedings.

Breaching the in-camera rule is considered a contempt of court and can result in a jail sentence and/or a significant fine.

Letters obtained by the Sunday Independent show Mr Kenny's constituent alleging that documents in the proceedings had been "forged or otherwise invalid".

The woman contacted the Taoiseach, who in turn wrote to Mr Shatter asking to "know the present position" in the family law case.

Mr Shatter, who is a family law solicitor, eventually told the Taoiseach that it was "entirely improper for a member of government to intervene in any way with Court Registry records".

Last night, Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins said the Taoiseach's letters were "an outrageous failure of judgement" and called on Mr Kenny to explain why he seemed to be weighing in on one side of a family law dispute.

On October 20 last year, Mr Shatter wrote to the Taoiseach acknowledging that he received Mr Kenny's letter the previous day, saying "the matter has been brought to the attention of the appropriate officials in my department".

Four months later, on February 16, Mr Kenny followed up his initial correspondence "regarding an issue on family law" asking to know the "present position in the case".

The following day, Mr Shatter responded again, saying the matter had been forwarded to "the appropriate officials in my department".

In May, having considered the matter for seven months, Mr Shatter wrote to the Taoiseach telling him it would "inappropriate" and "entirely improper" for him to comment on the case.

Mr Shatter said: "I note there is a very substantial dispute resulting from a marriage unfortunately breaking down.

"I am sure your constituent will understand that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the family dispute that had arisen.

"I note she has instructed a solicitor who should be able to give comprehensive advice to her on the issues.

He added: "The totality of the background circumstances will be relevant to the determination of the claim. . . and I hope she understands it would be entirely improper for a member of government to intervene in any way with Court Registry records.

Despite saying that it was not appropriate to comment on the case, he closed his correspondence with advice for Mr Kenny's constituent.

"If she considers that any document is forged or otherwise invalid [she should] consult her solicitor in the matter and consider reporting it to An Garda Siochana," he said.

Last night Mr Collins said: "The news that the Taoiseach of our country is involving himself and his office in an individual case will make a lot of people very uncomfortable."

Family law expert and director of Family, Fathers and Friends Sam Butt believes the Taoiseach had "crossed a lot boundaries" due to the private nature of family law cases.

He said: "As a public servant, he can't be seen to be taking the side of one or other of the parties because it can be taken as he is interfering with the judicial process.

"If you or I were to have done it we would be found in breach of the in-camera rule and be facing the consequences.

"Whatever transpires between the two parties involved in the case cannot be disclosed outside the four walls of the court."

Mr Butt added: "In fact, the woman has broken it first by disclosing the information to the Taoiseach, who is a third party."

Labour senator and former barrister Ivana Bacik said it was not appropriate for the Taoiseach to make the representations and said interfering with family law proceedings was a contempt of court.

"It seems to me that anyone would know that it's not appropriate to be writing these letters," she said.

"There is no role for any legislator or executive members in a family law case. There is no reason to intervene because you simply can't. It's a contempt of court."

A Justice Department spokesman said Mr Shatter would not be commenting on Mr Kenny's representation.

A spokesman for Mr Kenny said: "The Taoiseach receives an extremely high volume of correspondence on all subjects from all parts of the country and his office forwards queries for the attention of the department responsible."

Sunday Independent

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