Wednesday 20 November 2019

Attorney General faces criticism for predicting a Supreme Court ruling

Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins, who is waiting on a Supreme Court appeal verdict
Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins, who is waiting on a Supreme Court appeal verdict
John Downing

John Downing

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe has faced scathing criticisms and been challenged to clarify comments he made about a pending Supreme Court ruling.

The Government's legal adviser said he expected the nation's highest court would rule against former Rehab boss Angela Kerins in her case against the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Mr Woulfe's criticisms of the Judicial Appointments Bill were also challenged by some politicians.

The Attorney General made the comments at a lunch on Friday organised by the Association of European Journalists, which was attended by 50 people from journalism, public relations and lobbyists.

His criticisms of the Judicial Appointments Bill, which seeks to reduce the role of politicians and lawyers in appointing judges, were made in a speech delivered from notes and were available to be reported in the press.

The remarks about Ms Kerins's case were during a question and answer session which was to be treated as "off the record" and this was respected by the media present.

But those comments were published in a British newspaper yesterday, attracting commentary from Fianna Fáil and the Social Democrats. Fianna Fáil's public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary called for clarity following the comments predicting the possible outcome of a Supreme Court case taken by Ms Kerins against the PAC.

"The Attorney General's decision to comment on ongoing legal procedures marks a worrying new departure for his office.

"It is deeply inappropriate for the Government's legal adviser to be commenting publicly about any ongoing case," Mr Calleary said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall accused Mr Woulfe of inappropriate and gross interference in legislative and judicial matters.

"The job of the chief legal officer of the State is to advise the Government - not to weigh in with his personal opinions in public," she said.

Mr Woulfe also warned that a new 'penalty points' system aimed at fishermen who engage in illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing is likely to face a Supreme Court challenge. The Cabinet signed off on legislation to enact new EU laws last week. He described the new bill as "controversial" and "difficult".

"The EU loves these things about sanctions regimes. Instead of just prosecuting people and having the criminal system and the civil system, you've something in between which is a sanctions regime," he said.

But Mr Woulfe said many people had queried whether somebody accused of wrongdoing should be entitled to have a jury trial. "The answer is 'no' under the EU system so we're going to have trips to the Supreme Court about all of that." However, he added that EU laws trump all else.

Irish Independent

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