NI Chief Justice rejects judge’s complaint he was victim of ‘bias’

‘Frankly risible’ for judge to suggest fellow judges cannot deal independently with issues

Judge Desmond Marrinan told the Stormont justice committee in November that he had been subjected to “flawed, unfair and biased” treatment when he failed in a competition to be appointed as a High Court judge. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan/Collins

Judge Desmond Marrinan told the Stormont justice committee in November that he had been subjected to “flawed, unfair and biased” treatment when he failed in a competition to be appointed as a High Court judge. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan/Collins

Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 19:31

The North’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has told the Assembly justice committee that a complaint by a county court judge that he had been a victim of unfair treatment when seeking promotion was wrong.

Judge Desmond Marrinan told the Stormont justice committee in November that he had been subjected to “flawed, unfair and biased” treatment when he failed in a competition to be appointed as a High Court judge.

However, the Lord Chief Justice today rejected the complaint of Judge Marrinan, whom he said he respected as a hardworking judge, while adding, “One needs to be very careful not to be a judge in your own cause.”

The unusual circumstances of the North’s most senior judicial figure defending the North’s judicial appointments system was played out at Parliament Buildings, Stormont this afternoon during a public session of the North’s justice committee, chaired by DUP MLA Paul Givan.

Sir Declan, answering Mr Givan, said some of the evidence of Judge Marrinan had been disrespectful to other judges, particularly when he made the “frankly risible” claim that they lacked the independence to deal with issues on their merits.

Mr Givan said he had received correspondence from Judge Marrinan yesterday in which he indicated that Sir Declan contacted him after his November appearance and “threatened him with disciplinary action”.

Sir Declan said he did not threaten him with such action but that he had contacted him after that meeting where he commented about his suggestion that he would not get a fair hearing from senior judges in Northern Ireland.

“I told him I considered that to be disrespectful to the senior judges in this jurisdiction, who so far as I could see have always behaved independently,” he said.

“I do take issue with the suggestion that judges in this jurisdiction are so mealy-mouthed or lack independence that they would have difficulty dealing with issues on their merits,” added Sir Declan.

He said: “I did not threaten him with disciplinary action. I told him that in other circumstances I would have had to consider disciplinary action in relation to any judge who had made such comments about the judiciary, but in light of the fact that he had been ill - and I recognised that this issue had been very close to him - that I did not think it would be appropriate for me to take the matter any further.”

Mr Givan repeated that there appeared to be a threat of disciplinary action. He also suggested that Sir Declan’s criticism of Judge Marrinan would have had a “chilling affect” on him. He further suggested that in relation to “constitutional boundaries”, the Lord Chief Justice’s warning to Judge Marrinan was an interference with the justice committee given that it had invited Judge Marrinan as a witness and may do so again.

Sir Declan repeated that he did not threaten disciplinary action and added, “I have a responsibility to ensure that the rule of law in this jurisdiction is respected, and where people suggest that the judges of this jurisdiction were neither courageous nor independent enough to make the decisions that are required of them, it is my responsibility to ensure that I have made that clear to those who do it and to the public generally.”

Pressed further by Mr Givan, he said: “I have a responsibility to ensure that those who denigrate the independence and courage of judges in this jurisdiction should have it pointed to them that they are in error.”