Tuesday 16 July 2019

Manners must be put on judges

WE are not in a good place when the judiciary begins to pose a problem to the good running of the State. It is nothing short of an abasement of Irish public life that, when it comes to their pensions, we must be put to the trouble and expense of a referendum to compel a set of judges, who appear to think they hold office in a similar manner to those medieval kings who ruled by divine right, to behave themselves.

Sadly, the reputation of our judiciary was further damaged last week by the revelation that Chief Justice John Murray had, at his first meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, raised concerns held by judges over the impact of recent tax changes on their pensions. It is excessive to use words like seedy but anyone who recalls the era of Thomas Finlay would have felt queasy over a spectacle that bore far too close a resemblance to the exchanges a Taoiseach normally has with the Vintners Association.

Our judges have, courtesy of a shackled media and a cowed political class, acquired an increasingly sacerdotal hue. Like our former Catholic prelates, we are regularly told, in particular by our judges themselves, that they are no ordinary citizens. Our judiciary though should know that in all polities from the ECB to Machiavelli's Prince unbridled authority will, if it is not tempered by some form of accountability, eventually dawdle towards the seductive territories of self-interest.

The fact that the story appeared at all indicates that Mr Kenny, whose capacity to use the political knife has been consistently underestimated, appears to have sent the Chief Justice off with a flea in his ear. He was right to do so in private, and in public, for if our judges are fretting about how to survive on the 'widow's mite' of a €2.3m pension they have little to be worrying about.

Or to put it a different way, judges should be applying their minds to far more serious matters than their terms and conditions. The public have been scandalised by the vast carelessness with which our banking and economic elites ran their affairs. More seriously, the social compact has been compromised by our apparent inability to deal with these scandals.

In issues such as this a disillusioned, cynical public inevitably look to self-proclaimed pillars of the State for guidance. However, when it comes to our judges, we can apparently go whistle, for, with rare exceptions, the judiciary have been as mute as the famous three monkeys on these issues.

Judges, of course, should not act like politicians manqué and use the courtroom as an alternative legislative forum but, like the President, they can make their views known in a subtle fashion.

The Coalition's forthcoming referendum should have a wider brief than pensions.

Seeing as politicians, quite rightly, have to produce a register of interests when they are elected, it should include the setting up of a similar register and a judicial council for a judiciary who appear to be struggling to understand that in a republic everyone, including judges, is equal.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss