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AG gave judges go-ahead to publish memo on salary cuts

THE Attorney General Maire Whelan gave the go-ahead for the country's judges to publish their controversial memo in full on the forthcoming judicial-pay referendum.

The revelation will prove embarrassing for Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who launched a strong attack on the Courts Service for publishing the memo on its website.

Mr Shatter said he was surprised and disappointed at such a document being hosted on the website of a state agency when it was not a court judgment or about the workings of the courts.

But according to a legal source, Ms Whelan had been contacted by the judiciary as far back as last Monday about publishing the 12-page memo.

It had been annoyed by the fact that extracts from the memo had been leaked to newspapers which had led to a public backlash against it. The memo warned that the Government's plan to cut judicial pay could have "huge reputational implications" for the country.

It said the Government's suggested referendum wording was "fundamentally deficient" and would compromise judicial independence. And it called for an independent "salary commission" -- rather than the Government itself -- to decide on the judiciary's pay cuts.

According to the legal source, Ms Whelan told the judiciary she had no problem with the memo being made public.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice John L Murray then approached the Courts Service last Thursday to ask it to publish the memo on its website. The Courts Service agreed to do so.

But then Mr Shatter got a Department of Justice official to phone the Courts Service chief executive Brendan Ryan on his behalf to complain about the "inappropriate" posting of the memo on its website.


Mr Shatter insisted last night that the memo should be taken down off the website.

"I believe that this event, which was not sanctioned by anyone associated with the Government, is most unfortunate and it remains my hope that corrective action will be taken," he said.

But although the publication of the memo on the Courts Service website had not been "sanctioned" by anyone in Government, this was not what the judiciary discussed with Ms Whelan. She had simply agreed that it could be released -- and not about how this could be done.

In a lengthy statement last night, Mr Shatter said the referendum on judicial pay was designed to show that judges were not immune from the unprecedented economic and fiscal difficulties confronting the State.

"There is no question of the judiciary being treated differently to others or of being individually or collectively targeted either now or in the future," he said.

The row over the publication of the memo is a further sign of the deteriorating relationship between the Government and the judiciary -- which suspects the Government of leaking documents to damage it.

The referendum will allow serving judges' pay to be reduced by 16pc for judges in the lower courts and by up to 23pc for Superior Court judges. It is widely expected to be passed when it is held alongside the presidential election in October.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin weighed into the debate yesterday by accusing the Government of failing to consult the opposition and interested groups about the judicial-pay referendum.

"This is an arrogant and foolish approach, which may lead to a poorly drafted amendment and rising controversy on a matter which should be straightforward," he said.

Irish Independent