Chief Justice announces new forum for judiciary
Forum to facilitate communication between judiciary and Government
Mrs Justice Susan Denham said there were "issues of serious concern" to the judiciary and praised the "energy and commitment" of her colleagues on the bench ". Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
A new forum for communication between the judiciary and the Government has been formed, the Chief Justice has announced.
In her first public intervention on the row between judges and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, Mrs Justice Susan Denham said there were "issues of serious concern" to the judiciary and praised the "energy and commitment" of her colleagues on the bench "in reacting to the situation the State has found itself in the past few years."
Judge Denham said that given the concerns of the judiciary, she recently proposed to Government that there should be "more regular engagement to facilitate constructive discussion on these and other matters of mutual concern and interest to the judiciary and the executive."
"This process has now commenced, and a further meeting was held last Monday," she said in a speech at Griffith College Dublin this evening. "In due course I intend to meet the Taoiseach to discuss the issues of mutual concern that emerge."
Judges are angry over a range of issues which they say threaten their independence, including pay, pensions and future appointments. In a statement on Monday, the Association of Judges of Ireland said lines of communication between the judiciary and the executive had collapsed. The statement followed a weekend report that Mr Justice Peter Kelly told a gathering of business leaders last week the Government’s handling of a range of issues, including judge’' pay and the creation of new courts presided over by new types of judges, also carried risks for the country’s reputation.
In her remarks, Judge Denham said the proposal for a Court of Appeal was one of several topics on which she had had "many constructive meetings with the Minister for Justice in relation to future developments and reforms in the Courts."
She also said a group of judges was currently preparing further information for the Attorney General on the proposed referendum on the new appeals court. She added that this proposal was one of a number of matters on which she had also had discussions with the Taoiseach.
"While I have had constructive discussions with the Taoiseach on matters relevant to the Executive and the Judiciary, the normal conduit between the Judiciary and the Executive is the Attorney General. That avenue of contact continues as a positive and proper route," she said.
However, Judge Denham also said it was "clear" that new structures for discussion were needed, adding: "You will appreciate that in dealing with matters of government, many have to be addressed confidentially."
Paying tribute to her fellow judges, the chief justice told her audience: "I cannot say enough about the energy and commitment of my colleagues on the bench - about the Judges of Ireland - in reacting to the situation the State has found itself in the past few years.
"They have - in court - imaginatively and with deep compassion dealt with those who have been led to the courts by debt issues. They have in work practice, continued to show an enormous willingness to change and to undertake more work with less resources."
She said that, according to one calculation, the Courts Service had increased productivity by 25 per cent over recent years, and the judiciary played an important part in that achievement.
"The judges of Ireland are undertaking a key role - patriotically - as they maintain the rule of law, and the democratic nature of our State, in these difficult and troubled times, and I am honoured to work with them through this time of national economic crisis".