Archbishop defends independence of judiciary

Diarmuid Martin calls for justice to be available for all regardless of means

Former president of the High Court Mr Justice Richard Johnston with Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the opening of the Michaelmas Law Term yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Former president of the High Court Mr Justice Richard Johnston with Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the opening of the Michaelmas Law Term yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.


The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has warned against undermining the independence of judges and has appealed to all involved in the administration of justice to strive to ensure justice is available to all, not just those with “elevated” financial means.

Dr Diarmuid Martin also said that antisocial behaviour could be the expression of other problems, including mental health problems.

There must be an “urgent social and political response” to the high proportion of men and women returned to a prison system unable to address their problems, he said.

He called for a wider concept of truth beyond that of technology and science, arguing breach of the truth of trust and loyalty “is at the root of our economic challenges”.

All of us must act with a truth which was “not a self-centred ideology” but founded on a care and respect for the truth of the other. Dr Martin made the remarks in his homily at the annual Mass held at St Michan’s Catholic Church in Dublin to mark the opening of the new legal year.

The congregation included the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, and senior members of the judiciary from Northern Ireland, England and Scotland, as well as judges from the Supreme Court and the High Court here.
In his homily, Dr Martin focused on the themes of truth, unity and equality and their importance for fostering social harmony.

The right administration of justice was “a fundamental pillar of democracy” and our common sharing in, and respect for, society. When dysfunctionality enters into the administration of justice, that had “degenerative effects” on the fabric of society.

“The independence of the judicial system is the first institution which is undermined by totalitarian or corrupt systems and the undermining of the independence of the judicial system is often the destruction of the final pillar which sustains democracy and freedom.”

Equality was not an isolated concept and justice “has to seek a sense of equity which ensures that the balance of justice is something that can be attained by all, especially those whose opportunity and access to power may be weakest”.

Justice must also work to ensure legitimate claims “do not result in a litigiousness which damages the unity of society”.

On a recent papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei, Dr Martin said it addressed the challenge of truth in today’s world and outlined, without the truth of relationships, love, commitment and loyalty central to the personal lives of all, society would be “totally empty”.

“The truth of trust and loyalty is also the fundamental pillar of an economy or a market. At the root of our economic challenges, there is the breach of that truth.”

There was also “the truth of ideals and dreams” and the centenaries this nation would celebrate in the coming years were “examples of how the truth of ideals and dreams indeed overcame the truths of accepted wisdom”.

Truth was not just about measurement and investigation but about seeking to explain our lives as individuals and as a society.

While such a concept of truth could be exploited and could turn into fundamentalism, there could also be a fundamentalism of the relative and workable, the agreed-on and compromise, which could lead to arrogance and intolerance of those with deeply held convictions, he added.

Values could help us to see the realities of the world in new ways. The changes affecting Ireland “require roots and people who witness in their lives to what is most fundamental about life”. The “art of the possible” was “not the realm of pure compromise” but required people who were uncompromising in reaching out towards that ideal.