Monday 19 August 2019

Tribunals are 'scrums' of lawyers and never seem to end - Charleton

Peter Charleton: The Disclosures Tribunal judge hit out at ‘procedures’. Photo: Collins Photos
Peter Charleton: The Disclosures Tribunal judge hit out at ‘procedures’. Photo: Collins Photos
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Thirty-five people who appeared before the Disclosures Tribunal were afforded the same legal rights as if they were accused of murder, the judge who oversaw the inquiry has revealed.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton has suggested more trust needs to be put in people asked to head up tribunals and less time afforded to barristers hired by witnesses.

Delivering the John Hume Lecture at the Glenties Summer School, Mr Justice Charleton called for the structure of tribunals to be "rebalanced so that the community also had rights".

"Participants' rights need to be seen within a context of the undoubted necessity that arises in stark form that what is behind national scandals be uncovered and sorted out quickly," he said.

"Our response has been to heap procedural right on procedural right in such a way as to make the functioning of tribunals close to impossible.

"But surely a better approach is to trust the tribunal to actually do the inquiring; to turn the model from that of a criminal trial to one where counsel for the tribunal does the examination; where the key parties have the right only to legal advice; and where the impulse to resort to judicial review and delay is dissolved by the simplicity of that procedure."

The Supreme Court judge, who ruled over the inquiry into the treatment of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, said anybody who walks into a tribunal "will see a huge room mostly populated by barristers and solicitors".

Addressing the audience, he said: "You might like to guess how many people had full accused-of-murder rights before the Disclosures Tribunal finished in June 2018.

"There were all of 35 of them. This means that the tribunal is dealing with a scrum."

He said the terms of reference for a tribunal are "drafted at times of political turmoil".

"As in the Beef Tribunal, where not only the Goodman empire was to be investigated, but a catch-all was added about the entire beef industry. Similar clauses abound elsewhere, so tribunals never seem to finish."

Irish Independent

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