Shatter denies suggestion of political interference in courts system

Minister defends State treatment of judiciary after comments by High Court judge

It could do “great damage” to the State internationally if a message was given out that there was “ any political interference in the determination of court proceedings by our courts,” Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

It could do “great damage” to the State internationally if a message was given out that there was “ any political interference in the determination of court proceedings by our courts,” Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Tue, Apr 16, 2013, 13:01

It could do “great damage” to the State internationally if a message was given out that there was “ any political interference in the determination of court proceedings” , Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.

Mr Shatter was speaking this morning after High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly reportedly accused the Government of attacking the independence of the judiciary.

It was a “matter of some considerable seriousness”, he said reiterating that “no question mark hangs over the independence of our judiciary or court system” and “rule of law fully applies in this State”.

Mr Shatter was sure Mr Justice Kelly “didn’t intend to suggest that the Government in any way interferes with the independence of the court” or anything other that that “all of his colleagues” independently and properly determine cases, he told RTÉ Radio this morning.

The Sunday Business Post reported yesterday that Mr Justice Kelly told a gathering of business leaders last week the Government’s handling of a range of issues, including judges’ pay and the creation of new courts presided over by new types of judges, also carried risks for the country’s reputation. Mr Justice Kelly was speaking in his capacity as president of the Association of Judges in Ireland, the report added.

This morning, Mr Shatter said he did not know “what motivated that type of language” but said people can, on occaision, “say things that have unintended consequences and implications”.

Mr Shatter said it was “very important” that “each organ of the State shows respect to each other.”

It was “appropriate” for judges to raise law reform issues, he said. “I think it is unfortunate that any message should be given that our courts are anything other than independent,”he said.

On the issue of pay reductions for judges, he said it was ”unfortunate” if this “constitutionally sanctioned” pay cut was “presented as an attack on judicial independence” because there was a referendum on the issue.

Mr Shatter said the Government had a “reform agenda” which some people are “a little but uncomfortable with...or perhaps it’s misunderstood”.

On the appointment new judges in the planned court of appeal for insolvency, Mr Shatter said this would be confined initally to country registrars rather than practising barristers and solicitors because there was a “need to contain public expenditure”.

Fianna Fáil TDWillie O’Dea said that Mr Shatter appeared to turn it into “an argument about judge’s pay” when the central point being made by the High Court judge was about more than that. “I think we are on the verge of a very serious constitutional issue here and the Minister has to climb down and engage with the judiciary,” Mr O’Dea told RTÉ.