Sunday 20 August 2017

Judges need to toughen up and accept scrutiny over deference

The media should not bow down to the judiciary but instead hold the lawyerly class to account

CASE SENSITIVE: The Four Courts building in Dublin and, inset, Chief Justice Susan Denham, who lauded her colleagues in a ‘gushing’ speech last weekend. Dan O’Brien wonders if judicial egos have become unusually fragile and asks if the deference of society and the media towards the judiciary has made judges believe they are above criticism
CASE SENSITIVE: The Four Courts building in Dublin and, inset, Chief Justice Susan Denham, who lauded her colleagues in a ‘gushing’ speech last weekend. Dan O’Brien wonders if judicial egos have become unusually fragile and asks if the deference of society and the media towards the judiciary has made judges believe they are above criticism
Chief Justice Susan Denham
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

'I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and power execute the office of Chief Justice (or as the case may be) without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws." This is the oath set out in Article 34 of Bunreacht na hEireann which all newly appointed judges must take.

These were the words of the present chief justice, Susan Denham, to her fellow judges last weekend: "In our democracy, the three great pillars of State - the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary - derive their powers from the People. It is a fundamental principle that each of the great organs of State owes respect to the other."

Before discussing why the chief justice is wrong about the branches of government "owing respect" to each other, consider yet another judicial comment, this one made by the president of the circuit court last Thursday. Mr Justice Raymond Groarke declared during a case he was hearing that he was "not going to obey legislative strictures". The judge said he would not obey the law because too few judges had been appointed to deal with the volume of cases before the courts, exactly the matter that has led to a spat between the judiciary and the Government, or, more precisely, one member of the Government.

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