Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cold case: Chief Justice warns of trial cancellations as judges shiver in court

Judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Susan Denham (centre), who brought a thermometer to her chilly bench in the Four Courts
Judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Susan Denham (centre), who brought a thermometer to her chilly bench in the Four Courts

Gordon Deegan

Plunging temperatures arising from a faulty heating system at the Supreme Court have contributed to Supreme Court justices falling ill and the Chief Justice threatening to cancel sittings of the highest court in the land.

Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham brought a thermometer to the bench in the Four Courts to highlight plunging mercury levels and revealed that the judges have been working in temperatures as low as 13.5C.

She sent a stark warning to Minister for State Simon Harris, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), that if adequate heat is not provided in the Supreme Court then she "shall have to cancel court sittings".

"This I am loath to do as cases are important and urgent for the parties, but this is a significant health matter," Mrs Justice Denham added in a letter from January 30 last released by the OPW under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mrs Justice Denham told Mr Harris that "the court and conference room of the Supreme Court were so cold that I brought a thermometer and took the temperature for some days from Monday, January 19th".

Mrs Justice Denham's letter includes two pages of 25 separate temperature readings taken by her between Monday January 19 and Friday January 23 in support of her case over the faulty heating system.

Under the Health and Welfare at Work Regulations, a minimum temperatures of 17.5C is recommended for sedentary office work.

It is suggested that for most people an acceptable temperature for office work lies within the range of 18C to 23C.

However, temperatures taken by Mrs Justice Denham show it was 13.5C at 10.45am in the Supreme Court on Monday January 19 rising to 17C in the conference room at 5.15pm.

Temperatures plunged again to 13.5C at 10.50am at the Supreme Court on January 21.

In her letter, Mrs Justice Denham said that readings show the "entirely inadequate heating in the Supreme Court" and that it was a "significant health issue".

She pointed out that the issue is not new and that she had also raised concerns in 2013.

In reply, Mr Harris wrote on February 6 last that the Commissioners of Public Works regret the heating system troubles and said engineers are working to ensure adequate heat.

He said it would ultimately require significant work to resolve it.

Courts Service CEO Brendan Ryan apologised for the "ongoing discomfort" with the heating in the Four Courts which is outside of the service's control.

"Despite the best efforts of the Courts Service, the heating system in the Four Courts remains totally unreliable," he added.

He wrote to John McMahon, Commissioner of the OPW, to seek a meeting as a "matter of urgency" to review it. "

We cannot tolerate a situation where we are living in fear of the heating system failing and court sittings being put at risk, not to mention the undoubted health issues that fall out of such failures," he stated.

Mrs Justice Denham thanked Simon Harris for addressing the issue and said the measures had improved the heating.

Irish Independent

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