Law cannot be obeyed without more judges, says court president

Mr Justice Raymond Groarke criticises Government’s failure to fill judicial vacancies

Mr Justice Raymond Groarke taking office as President of the Circuit Court in 2012 with President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photograph: Maxwells

Mr Justice Raymond Groarke taking office as President of the Circuit Court in 2012 with President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photograph: Maxwells

 

The President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, said Thursday if the Government was not prepared to give him judges he was “not going to obey their legislative strictures”.

In one of the toughest judicial criticisms to date of the Government’s refusal to appoint new judges, he said he was already three judges short of the court’s quota, and due to new developments, he would be five short by the beginning of the new legal term in January.

Mr Justice Groarke said that in the New Year he had to provide a judge for sittings of the Special Criminal Court and another judge was due to take sick leave involving surgery which would leave him five down.

He said if the Government was not prepared to give him judges “I just can’t obey their legislative strictures”.

Mr Justice Groarke was referring to a legal directive under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 which specifically states: “The Court shall not exercise any power it has of postponing the hearing of an application for interim relief except where it is satisfied that special circumstances exist which justify it in doing so.”

The President, sitting in the Circuit Civil Court, had been asked to set a specific date for the hearing of a claim under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, known as the Whistleblowers Act, by the Principal of St Andrew’s College Junior School, Dr Jacquie Campbell, seeking reinstatement to the job from which she claims she was unfairly dismissed last month.

The college denies she was sacked unfairly and Mr Martin Hayden, SC, counsel for Dr Campbell, said the dispute would take two days for a full hearing and that, under the Act, the court did not have a jurisdiction to adjourn the hearing.

Thursday’s planned hearing had initially been listed before Judge Jacqueline Linnane who said there had been six new sworn affidavits placed in the court file and she believed it would take more than the suggested two days for the hearing.

“It will take at least a day to open the affidavits to the court,” she told Mr Hayden, who appears with barrister Mairead McKenna and Hayes Solicitors. She directed that the matter be mentioned to the President of the Circuit Court.

Barrister Tom Mallon, who appeared with Tom Connaughton, SC, and Solicitors Mason, Hayes and Curran, for the college said that although there was an issue of protected disclosure in the case he felt it could be dealt with in two days.

Mr Justice Groarke said counsel could forget about the statutory directive in the Act that a case could not be adjourned and must be dealt with on the first day it was before the court.

“How can I do the work the Government expects me to do when they won’t give me the judges I need,” he said.

Following an adjournment, the judge told the parties he was aware of the urgencies and would try his very best to deal with it. He would seek to have the case heard in the second week of December but could not guarantee which court it would be heard in or by what judge.

The court has heard that mediation talks have already failed in the case in which Dr Campbell has stated she was head of the fee-paying primary school which has 28 teachers.

She is challenging what she describes as a purported and allegedly unlawful decision of the college to terminate her position which, she claimed, was clearly and inextricably linked to complaints she had made to the college principal and the board of governors.

Mr Hayden told the court today that school parents had already mounted a petition calling for the reinstatement of Dr Campbell.

Mr Mallon told the court Dr Campbell could not be reinstated under the Act without the consent of the board of governors.