Michael Staines
Michael Staines

09.33 10 Nov 2020


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The former transport minister Shane Ross has said the disagreement between members of the judiciary over Supreme Court Justice Séamus Woulfe is “utterly unprecedented.”

The Government has asked the Attorney General for advice after it emerged the Chief Justice Frank Clarke had told Mr Justice Woulfe he should resign.

In a batch of letters published last night the Chief Justice said his colleague should resign to avoid “continuing serious damage to the judiciary” but admitted he had no power to impose any formal sanction on him.

Mr Justice Woulfe agreed to a three-month suspension without pay but refused to step down.

Oireachtas must step into 'utterly unprecedented' Séamus Woulfe judicial row - Shane Ross

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On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, former Government minister Shane Ross said it is now time for the Oireachtas to get involved.

“It is quite obvious that the Supreme Court, which is under enormous amount of pressure and unwelcome focus, has handed this over and they have given it to the Attorney general to brief Cabinet,” he said.

“It is utterly unprecedented that judges should be at war with each other in this very, very public way and that is what is happening.

“So, I think the Cabinet will be asked to do something about it.”

He claimed his Judicial Appointments Bill would have prevented the current situation from arising.

“The fundamental problem here is not Séamus Woulfe,” he said. “I don’t think he should stay, of course I don’t, but the fundamental problem here is that the Supreme Court and the politicians have got together and connived in a system of appointing judges for many, many years, which suited them and was not transparent and now we are paying the price.”

Resign

He said Mr Justice Woulfe should resign “because he should be held to the same standards as politicians.”

“He shouldn’t resign because Frank Clarke tells him to because Frank Clarke wants to, basically, get rid of this problem,” he said.

“He should resign because he should be held to the same standards as the politicians were.”

Separation of powers

On the same show, Dr Patrick O’Brien, Senior Law Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University said he was not comfortable with the idea of senior judges deciding on future of other judges.

He noted that only one other judge ever faced impeachment in Ireland and that was when he was accused of possessing images of child pornography.

He said Mr Justice Woulfe has not committed a crime or been accused of one and, while it seems clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues, it would set a dangerous precedent if judges can tell other judges to resign without “very clear reasons.”

“We are just caught between a rock and hard place,” he said.

“It seems impossible that Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe could stay on the Supreme Court when his colleagues have expressed the view, very clear and unanimously, that they are not comfortable with him sitting there.

Difficult precedent

The other part of this rock and hard place is, it seems a little bit ridiculous to remove him for this particular reason and this does potentially set a difficult precedent.

“Should it be possible to remove a judge for being a difficult personality, if I can put it that way? For not getting on that well with his colleagues? That seems to be to be too low a bar.”

You can listen back here:

Oireachtas must step into 'utterly unprecedented' Séamus Woulfe judicial row - Shane Ross

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