Judges in a state of 'dreadful depression' says retired Justice
MINISTER Brendan Howlin's refusal to sanction travel allowances for High Court judges has been described as "mealy-mouthed" by a retired Supreme Court justice.
Catherine McGuinness said that morale among the judiciary was low and that its independence had been affected by the ability of the Government to cut judges' pay.
She was responding to documents published yesterday showing Chief Justice Susan Denham had written to Mr Howlin, the Minister for Public Expenditure, last year seeking permission for travel and subsistence allowances for High Court judges.
The intention had been to redirect funding from elsewhere in the Courts Service budget.
Circuit and District Court judges are entitled to a travel allowance, but not members of the High Court.
At present, two High Court judges live outside Dublin. But Mr Howlin replied he was unable to accede to the request.
Judge McGuinness, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, said: "It seems a mealy-mouthed kind of refusal. They weren't even asking for extra money, just to move some money within the Courts Service to pay for the expenses. What it means in the end then is that all your judges are going to come from Dublin or nearby Dublin.
"You do want to have some judges from other areas of the country because things tend to be too Dublin-orientated anyway as a whole."
She agreed that morale among judges was low since legislation was introduced allowing the Government to alter their salaries. It followed a referendum in which the public voted to remove the constitutional protection of judges' pay rates.
Judge McGuinness said judicial independence had been affected by a combination of the appointments being political and "the fact that they now can control the pay".
"That's the thing that takes away the independence. It was (always a political appointment) but they couldn't control the pay, they couldn't reduce the pay. That meant if you said something that annoyed the Government, they couldn't do anything about the pay.
"But now if you say something that annoys the Government, you feel another kind of attack on judicial pensions or something will arise," she told the Irish Independent.
Judge McGuinness says she has spoken to a number of judges who are in "a state of dreadful depression and it's not just because of the money, it's the independence".