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Minister and judges in website face-off

THE war between the Government and the judiciary over the proposed referendum on judges' pay escalated yesterday after Justice Minister Alan Shatter issued a formal rebuke to the chief executive of the Courts Service.

The latest row centres on the judiciary's decision to publish the full text of a memorandum, in which it criticises the wording of the Government's proposed referendum, on the Courts Service website.

Having learned of the judges' move, Mr Shatter is said by sources at the Law Library to have instructed one of his officials to phone the chief executive of the Courts Service, Brendan Ryan, and demand that the memorandum be removed.

The demand is said by the same sources to have been "politely but firmly rebuffed" by Mr Ryan, with the reminder that the Courts Service operates independently of his office.

Contacted by the Sunday Independent last night, Mr Shatter denied that he had attempted to force Mr Ryan to remove the judges' memorandum from the courts service website. He did, however, admit that he instructed one of his officials to phone Mr Ryan to express his disapproval of the Courts Service's decision to host the judges' memorandum on the courts.ie website.

In a statement issued through his spokeswoman, Mr Shatter said: "I did not phone Brendan Ryan. An official from my department phoned Mr Ryan to inform him that I believed it was inappropriate that the memorandum be hosted on the courts.ie website. It was a matter for Mr Ryan to determine what to do thereafter. I made no demand, nor did I talk to Mr Ryan.

"At all times I knew the legislative position. My department regularly liaises with Mr Ryan and it was entirely appropriate that my views be expressed to him. The provision for the courts service is made for through the Department of Justice estimates, and there is constant communication between the department and the courts service."

Separate to that statement, the Sunday Independent understands that Mr Shatter has personally expressed his view to others that the publication of the judges' memorandum on the website of the courts service is inappropriate.

But while Mr Shatter disapproves of the presence of the judges' memorandum on the site, his efforts through a departmental official to have it removed appear to have been fruitless so far. The decision by the judiciary to post its memorandum on the site is understood to have been prompted by the publication of document details in the Irish Times last Monday.

Law Library sources believe that the details in the newspaper report were leaked by someone in Government, and were "highly selective" to the point where they could potentially undermine the judges' argument that a constitutional amendment on their pay could threaten their independence, and Ireland's international standing.

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A Law Library source said: "The Government leaked it to the Irish Times, so the judiciary decided to post it on the website of the Courts Service in its entirety so it wouldn't be misunderstood or misrepresented."

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