Sunday 25 August 2019

Justice official was ‘put under pressure’ to apologise to judiciary

Department of Justice (Stock image)
Department of Justice (Stock image)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A TD has alleged a Government official was put under pressure to apologise to the judiciary over claims judges were not treating burglary as a serious crime.

Jimmy Martin, a member of the Department of Justice’s management team, issued a letter of apology to the President of the District Court, Judge Rosemary Horgan, after his remarks at the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) caused controversy last week.

But the row over his remarks continued today, with PAC vice chairman John Deasy criticising the issuing of the apology.

“It transpires that pressure was put on that official to apologise for those remarks,” he said at a meeting of the Dail spending watchdog.

“I want the Department of Justice to explain why the official was forced to write an apology.”

The Fine Gael TD said it was clear the Department of Justice did not believe the judiciary was taking burglary seriously and that the new Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill was being introduced make it more difficult for judges to grant bail.

He said the majority of the population agreed with Mr Martin, even if the same views were not held by the judiciary.

“I have never come across an incident like that where an apology was demanded by one arm of the state from another,” he said.

Mr Deasy said he did not believe Mr Martin had crossed any line in making his remarks.

“I think his right to make criticism of the judiciary should be protected,” he said.

“I think his right to express the views he expressed last week should be defended by the Oireachtas.”

Another committee member, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, said the apparent “rap on the knuckles” was “very worrying”.

Independent TD Shane Ross said the committee needed to establish whether anyone in the department or judiciary approached Mr Martin seeking the apology.

During a discussion on offences being committed by repeat offenders while out on bail at last week’s PAC meeting, Mr Martin told TDs: "Our perception is that the judiciary didn't view burglary as a serious offence.

"We had a particular difficulty with burglary where the evidence from the guards suggests there were a lot of burglars who were effectively professional criminals.

“They would be arrested by the guards, charged, released on bail, then commit more burglaries, and be released again, and I think there was one incident where it happened six or seven times in one month."

Acting Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters said Mr Martin’s comments were in no way a criticism of judges.

However, the remarks are thought to have caused some discontent among district justices.

In a subsequent letter to Judge Horgan, Mr Martin said it was "a matter of professional and personal concern that I would be perceived as having been critical of the judiciary".

He said his intention was to explain to TDs that the grounds for refusing bail were limited, and that it was never his intention to criticise the judiciary.

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