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Thursday 18 January 2018

Directors must put ethics ahead of profits – top judge

Justice Minister Alan Shatter chats with Chief Justice Susan Denham at the launch of the Courts Service Annual Report
Justice Minister Alan Shatter chats with Chief Justice Susan Denham at the launch of the Courts Service Annual Report
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Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE Chief Justice has called on boardrooms and businesses to place greater emphasis on ethics, as the controversy over the Anglo Tapes continues.

Writing in the Irish Independent today, Mrs Justice Susan Denham said the financial crisis had uncovered malpractice in business – as new figures reveal a surge in the number of people restricted or disqualified as company directors.

It comes after Justice Minister Alan Shatter called on former Anglo chief David Drumm to come home to face questioning about the bank's collapse.

And today the Irish Independent reveals that Mr Drumm laughed about the bank breaking basic accounting rules as it moved around billions to boost its balance sheet.

Mrs Justice Denham says "a trail of devastation" has wound its way through the court system on a daily basis since the economic collapse.

She insisted that the business community has a critical role to play in the restoration of the economy and leading Ireland out of the fiscal crisis.

"Ethics in the boardroom and in the governance of enterprises, rather than a constant eye on the needs of shareholders, is the way forward to building trust in Ireland's economic sector.

"Boards of directors hold a privileged position of trust," Mrs Justice Denham said.

"They are relied upon, primarily by the company and shareholders, but also employees, customers, suppliers and the public at large," she said, adding that we rely on boards to "do the right thing".

The annual report of the Courts Service, launched yesterday by Mrs Justice Denham, recorded a 50pc increase in the number of court orders to restrict company directors in the past year, when 81 people were restricted.

There has also been a 350pc increase in the number of company directors disqualified.

Mrs Justice Denham said that last year district court judges granted orders to jail almost 2,000 debtors.

New laws were introduced two years ago to drastically reduce imprisonment for civil debts, including failure to pay family maintenance.

Despite the fact prison is meant to be a last resort, there was an 83pc increase in committal orders last year.

District Court judges issued committal orders against 1,921 people last year for failing to comply with court orders to repay their debts, compared with 1,051 in 2011.

Last night, the Free Legal Advice Centres described the stark rise in committal orders as "puzzling".

"That is still very high," said Noeline Blackwell, its director general. "Most people who previously were facing committal orders were 'can't pays' rather than 'won't pays'."

The Chief Justice said the reasons behind a drop in high-nuisance and high-visibility crimes such as drug offences (down 10pc), drink-driving orders (down 41pc over two years) and a 22pc drop in public order offences invited a detailed reading.

High Court repossession actions are down 54pc in the past two years, in part due to the delay in closing a gap in the law identified by High Court Judge Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne.

VIOLENCE

Murder cases are down by 20pc and rape cases have increased by almost a third since 2010.

Divorce increased by 4pc last year, but judicial separations were down by 6pc. Domestic violence applications increased by 19pc.

A total of 235 people received prison sentences for breaking barring and related orders.

The increase in the number of people applying for domestic violence applications is in part explained by the fact that new laws allow a broader category of people to apply for court protection.

Irish Independent

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