Wednesday 21 November 2018

Attorney General in talks with senior judges to quell dispute

Dearbhail McDonald and Fergus Black

THE Attorney General has met with senior judges in a bid to quell the row over judicial independence.

The Office of the Attorney General was the traditional communications channel between the government and judiciary, but the Association of Judges of Ireland has complained that all communication channels "have ceased".

The meeting between Attorney General Maire Whelan and members of the judiciary took place on Monday night. It is understood that it was attended by senior government officials ahead of a possible meeting between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham.

The ongoing controversy is expected to take centre stage at the annual meeting of High and Supreme Court judges at the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, Co Limerick, on Friday.

Former justice minister Michael McDowell – himself a former Attorney General – will also deliver a keynote address on judicial independence when judges from England, Scotland and Wales travel to Ireland later this month for the annual Four Jurisdictions Judicial Conference.

But developments yesterday were dominated by remarks from Ed Honohan, the Master of the High Court, who told RTE: "Now all of this brouhaha seems to be about some sort of sense of entitlement, that judges are entitled to be consulted when the minister or the government proposes new legislation of one sort or another."

Dismay

But the High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns later said Mr Honohan was not a judge and had no authority to speak on behalf of judges.

Mr Justice Kearns said concerns about judicial independence expressed by the Association of Judges, of which he is not a member, were well founded.

Meanwhile, bodies representing barristers and solicitors have intervened in the row.

The Bar Council, the representative body for barristers, said that judges are entitled to voice their views over the recent and proposed changes to the way in which justice is administered.

"There is a separation of powers in this country and the judiciary exists to defend and vindicate the rights of the citizen," said chairman David Nolan.

"The Bar Council believes that the judges have raised very legitimate concerns about a number of recent issues, including the appointment, and manner of appointment, of 'specialist judges' under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 and in relation to the terms and conditions of their appointment."

But the Law Society said it viewed "with dismay" the deep tensions between the Government and the judiciary.

"It is clear from these public comments that the mutual respect that should always characterise the relationship between the government and the judiciary is under great strain," said director general Ken Murphy.

Irish Independent

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