Wednesday 24 April 2019

Chief Justice complains to minister over his letter being leaked to media

Chief Justice of Ireland Justice Frank Clarke (Brian Lawless/PA)
Chief Justice of Ireland Justice Frank Clarke (Brian Lawless/PA)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Chief Justice has complained to the Justice Minister over "a leak to the media" of a letter containing proposals to bring down awards for minor injuries such as whiplash.

The letter was sent by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to Mr Justice Frank Clarke last month, but its contents appeared in newspapers before it had been received.

In a strongly worded note, a copy of which has been obtained by the Irish Independent, Mr Justice Clarke told the minister it was "particularly disconcerting" to read the contents of the letter before it had arrived. "The only conclusion which I can reach is that there has been a leak to the media of the letter," he wrote.

"While I am sure that the leak did not come from you, I am afraid I must conclude that it did come from someone on the Government's side. I have to say that I find it particularly unhelpful that someone on the Government's side has seen fit to leak the letter before it has even been received.

"Such action does nothing to foster a spirit of co-operation on matters of mutual interest."

The episode is something of an embarrassment for the Government, which is under pressure over the slow pace of insurance cost reform.

Mr Flanagan asked the Chief Justice if it was possible for a small number of judges with expertise in personal injuries to join a group which would include representatives of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and, possibly, the Department of Justice, with a view to revising guideline award levels.

Mr Justice Clarke was particularly irked by one newspaper article which suggested he would respond favourably to the proposal.

He said he could only conclude this briefing "came from the Government side as well".

"I will, of course, consider and respond to any correspondence which I actually receive," he wrote.

"However, I feel that it is incumbent on me to express, in strong terms, my dismay at the actions of whichever person or persons organised the leak and briefing in question."

The minister wants the group put together as an interim measure until stalled legislation allowing for a Judicial Council can be passed by the Oireachtas.

Irish Independent

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