Statement raises key questions about that ‘casual conversation’ in Four Courts yard
Controversy points to urgent need for a Judicial Council
The president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who, with Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, investigated the claims “as a matter of urgency” yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson
The statement from the presidents of the High Court and Circuit Court – issued just eight hours after an inquiry was announced – answers some of the questions raised by reports of an improper approach by one judge to another over a family law case.
However it also raises some new ones.
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns and Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, who investigated the claims “as a matter of urgency” yesterday, confirmed that the Circuit Court judge in question was Desmond Hogan, a former midlands-based solicitor who was appointed to the bench in 1989.
According to an account from Mr Justice Henry Abbott of the High Court, he bumped into Judge Hogan in the yard of the Four Courts a few days after July 21st, 2010 – the day on which he had delivered a ruling in a family law case.
In the course of a “casual conversation”, Judge Hogan asked was it true that he had made a particular order in the case. The High Court judge “took exception” and dealt with it by saying the reasons for his decision would be detailed in a written judgment in due course. This was eventually delivered on July 26th, 2011.
“The making of this inquiry to Judge Abbott was the subject of certain questions put by Judge Abbott of one of the parties during a later hearing on 15 February, 2013, and was subsequently referred to by Judge Abbott in his ruling on 12 July, 2013,” according to last night’s statement.
When this account was put to Judge Hogan, he said that at this remove he was unable to recall the conversation or how he came by the information that a particular ruling had been made in July 2010.
He would not dispute that he may have asked Mr Justice Abbott “in a casual way” about the case, but he was satisfied that he had “no solicitation or request to that end from any politician or from any party involved in or connected with the case in any way”.
Judge Hogan said there had been “absolutely no intention” of interfering with the case or influencing its outcome in any way and he “deeply regrets” that his query may have given rise to any such apprehension.
All of this invites an obvious question: why did Judge Hogan raise the matter in the first place? He is “satisfied” that he was not asked to raise it by any politician or anyone connected to the case, but cannot recall why he would have inquired about it.