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Row as Charlie Flanagan accuses TD of 'sinister' attack on judge

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Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

JUSTICE Minister Charlie Flanagan has accused People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith of a "sinister" and "personalised" attack on a judge.

Online comments by the politician have also been condemned by the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), which said they went “far beyond what is acceptable in a properly functioning democracy founded on the rule of law”.

Ms Smith criticised a ruling by High Court Judge Garrett Simons in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

The previous day, Mr Justice Simons had found that a sectoral employment order made by the government guaranteeing minimum pay for electrical workers was unconstitutional.

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Solidarity People Before Profit's Brid Smith. PA Photo.

Solidarity People Before Profit's Brid Smith. PA Photo.

PA

Solidarity People Before Profit's Brid Smith. PA Photo.

The ruling came after an organisation called the National Electrical Contractors Ireland (NECI) challenged the government order.

In her Facebook post, Ms Smith claimed the judge "put the boot into workers" while earning "over €200,000 a year".

High Court judges are paid up to €196,000 after three years service.

Mr Flanagan commented on Ms Smith's remarks on Twitter this afternoon.

He wrote: "It is sinister to see a judge of our courts under attack in a highly personalised and viscious manner, most especially when such attacks come from an elected member of Dáil Éireann.

"It is redolent of petty dictators and in effect undermines the very fabric of democracy," Mr Flanagan added.

Ms Smith responded saying: "It's interesting that Charlie Flanagan seems more concerned about the judge his party appointed than he does about the impact the judgement will have on hundreds of thousands of workers and their families."

She added: "I don't see a Tweet from the establishment showing concern for them or more importantly any indication from the State of intention to appeal the judgement.

"I wait with baited breath for Fine Gael to defend workers."

The chairman of the Bar Council Micheál P O'Higgins released a statement following Ms Smith's remarks.

He said: "A personalised attack on a judge by a member of Dáil Eireann, amounts to an attack on our democracy and is something that all of society should be gravely concerned about."

"The stability and strength of our democracy is defined by an independent legal system - independent advocates who represent litigants without fear or favour and an autonomous, independent judiciary, who are charged to apply the law, blind to personal preferences or popularity."

"This ensures that all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, have the protection of the law and have equal access to justice."

He said this must not be taken for granted and that the judiciary and rule of law in many countries is "sadly under threat".

Mr O'Higgins said the role of a judge is to apply the rule of law as set down by legislators and they "do so with complete impartiality and objectivity."

"For a legislator to personally criticise a member of the judiciary, for doing the job society asks them to do, is dangerous and completely unacceptable," he added.

He said: "The coarsening of public discourse on social media is a depressing reality of the world we live in.

"Using that platform to make populist and personalised attacks on judges – who can not personally defend themselves – debases politics and endangers citizens who look to the courts for protection."

In a statement the AJI said any person was entitled to disagree with a court judgment and that it was an essential part of any functioning democracy that such criticism can be made.

“It is equally the right of any party disappointed with the outcome of a case to appeal to a higher court. However, the comments made by Ms Smith go far beyond what is acceptable in a properly functioning democracy founded on the rule of law,” the statement said.

“On Facebook and on Twitter, Ms Smith and her party made a number of outrageous and unwarranted comments in relation to the Judge.

“These go far beyond the boundaries of legitimate criticism and amount to an extraordinary and wholly unjustified attack on the integrity and independence of the judge.

“The suggestion that the judge’s judgment was ideologically-motivated is baseless and dangerous. That such comments should be made by a member of Dáil Éireann is particularly concerning.

“We are fortunate in this country that our Constitution guarantees the independence of our judiciary which is a fundamental cornerstone of a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law. It also provides for the separation of powers.

“As with all judges, Mr Justice Simons, on taking up office as a judge, made the declaration required by the Constitution of that he would carry out his functions as a judge without fear or favour, affection or ill will towards any person and that he would uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State.

“In deciding the case before him on the basis of the facts, legal submissions and previous case law, including a number of relevant decisions of the Supreme Court by which he was bound , the judge acted entirely in accordance with that declaration.

“In the event, he decided the case against the State parties, exemplifying the independence of the judiciary where judges do not hesitate to decide cases adverse to the State where, in their view, that is the legally correct outcome. The State is free to appeal the Judge’s decision, if it so decides.

“In many jurisdictions, the judiciary do not enjoy that degree of independence. In others, the exercise of such independence often comes at a significant price.

“Judges who make unpopular decisions are subject to rhetorical attack that aims to de-legitimise the judicial process and undermine public confidence in the independence of the judiciary, frequently by falsely ascribing political motivations to judges. Such rhetoric endangers the rule of law. Fortunately, that has never been a feature of political discourse in this State and it would be very regrettable if it were to be considered acceptable now.”

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