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New High Court President defends judges who took roles in Dubai courts

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President of the High Court, Justice David Barniville

President of the High Court, Justice David Barniville

President of the High Court, Justice David Barniville

THE President of the High Court has described as ‘a bit unfair’ the criticism of the appointments of two retired Irish judges to senior court roles in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Justice David Barniville told the Irish Times that the controversy was a ‘terrible pity and awful’ for the two men involved and praised their ‘good service to the State’ over the years.

Last month, the former High Court President Peter Kelly resigned his judge role in the Dubai International Financial Centre courts.

Mr Kelly followed retired colleague Frank Clarke in giving up the job in the UAE, after criticism over the country’s human rights record.

This morning the Irish Times published an interview with Mr Justice Barniville, who pointed out that Mr Clarke and Mr Kelly retired as Irish judges, and as such, they are private citizens.

Speaking about their appointments to the court in Dubai, he said: “Much of the criticism of that court was ill-informed and, I think, a bit unfair.”

He said comparing the DIFC courts to the LIV Golf tour in Saudi Arabia was “completely misplaced” .

He told the Irish Times: “I don’t think the comparison was fair but I can fully understand why, faced with the sort of public criticism that came out at the time, that both Peter Kelly and Frank Clarke decided they did not wish to remain on the court.

“They did not need that hassle. I think, for people who had given such good service to the State over the years, it was a terrible pity and awful for them.

“I’m very happy to say I think very, very highly of both of them and I don’t think any less of them as a result of this at all. I

“I can understand why they resigned but I do think a lot of the criticism didn’t really understand what was involved.”

He was asked about human rights concerns, and said: “You don’t always have to approve of a regime to work as part of it.”

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He pointed out that in terms of business, Dubai is “a hugely important market for Ireland”.

Both retired judges were among four appointed during the summer to the DIFC courts in an online swearing-in ceremony presided over by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, ruler of Dubai and president of the DIFC courts.

Mr Justice Clarke’s resignation came after questions were raised about whether his new position was compatible with his existing role as president of the Law Reform Commission.

The decision of Mr Justice Clarke and Mr Justice Kelly to take up senior roles in a commercial court based on common law in the UAE – a country with a chequered record on human rights – was criticised by several well-known legal figures in Ireland.

The head of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Liam Herrick, said the appointments were concerning given the pattern of widespread and serious human rights violations in the UAE.

And Donncha O’Connell, a professor of law at NUI Galway, said Mr Justice Kelly’s position on the DIFC Courts had become “completely untenable” following the resignation of his colleague.


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