Hardiman threatened to resign over judges' pay referendum

Late Supreme Court judge made intentions known before 2011 vote, book reveals

 

Former Supreme Court judge the late Adrian Hardiman threatened to resign if the 2011 referendum on cutting judges’ pay was passed.

The judge’s intention to take such a drastic move was made known to ministers in the months before the referendum, but it was decided nevertheless to go ahead with the poll, according to The Supreme Court, a new book by former legal affairs correspondent with The Irish Times Ruadhán Mac Cormaic.

The book gives the inside story on the convulsions within the judiciary as they resisted efforts to include them in the cutbacks being imposed across the public service by the then government. The referendum allowed for a reduction of judicial salaries in line with other public servants. Judges had previously enjoyed constitutional protection from having their salaries cut while in office.

Judges’ resistance to the changes led to their becoming the focus of strong criticism from politicians, the media and the public generally.

“Judges visited each other’s chambers to exchange stories about the abuse they were getting,” according to the book. One had fruit thrown at his car, while another was criticised by a member of the jury in the criminal courts. The referendum on judges’ pay was passed in October 2011 by an overwhelming majority. Mr Justice Hardiman remained in his position.

Private approaches

While the Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, who was appointed in July 2011, was in favour of engaging privately with the government rather than going for confrontation, according to Mac Cormaic’s book, there were others who, during 2011, believed the private approaches were not working.

These included the former president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Mr Justice Hardiman and the recently appointed president of the High Court, and then head of the Commercial Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly. Some judges, according to the book, felt Ms Justice Denham was too close to the then minister for justice, Alan Shatter, and it “drove them crazy that she always referred to him as Alan”.

The book details how, after Mr Shatter emailed the then chief justice, John Murray, in June 2011, to inform him that if the referendum was passed pay for new judges would be cut by 31 per cent, “the judges went into panic mode”. There was a hastily convened meeting of High and Supreme Court judges in the Four Courts where Mr Shatter was the focus of their ire. “Many of them were convinced that [Mr Shatter] had a vendetta against them.”

Dwindling pensions

The judiciary felt strongly that the referendum decision was a direct attack on one of the two constitutional protections that existed to preserve their independence. However, some judges were also “put out” because 2010 changes to pensions law had virtually wiped out pension pots they had built up during their years in private practice.

Also, according to the book, some judges “were in severe financial trouble, having made bad property investments during the boom. Government ministers wondered privately whether one or two senior judges might be close to being insolvent.”

Elsewhere, Mac Cormaic’s book describes how, in 2011, a judge emerged from his hotel room semi-naked to “yell abuse and swear” at British tourists he said were making too much noise. He also said his relatives had fought in the old IRA.

Because of the absence of a judicial council that would oversee judges’ conduct and other matters, all that senior judges could do was “sit down with the judge over a cup of tea and suggest that he take a rest”.

Exclusive extracts from the book will be published in The Irish Times tomorrow.