Report on Séamus Woulfe to go to Chief Justice this week

Susan Denham tasked to carry out review into judge’s presence at golf dinner

Supreme Court Judge Séamus Woulfe.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Supreme Court Judge Séamus Woulfe. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A report into the attendance of Supreme Court Judge Séamus Woulfe at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner is expected to be provided to the Chief Justice this week.

The Supreme Court had asked retired Chief Justice Susan Denham to carry out a non-statutory review of the judge’s attendance at the dinner at a Clifden hotel on August 19th.

The Supreme Court is likely to want any issues concerning Mr Justice Woulfe’s attendance finalised before the new law term opens on October 5th.

According to the published legal diary, Mr Justice Woulfe is listed as one of the members of a five judge Supreme Court to hear an appeal, via video conference, on October 6th. It would be his first sitting as a Supreme Court judge following his appointment to the court in July.

Ms Justice Denham met the former attorney general last week as part of her review. Mr Justice Woulfe was accompanied at that meeting by Michael Collins SC, who the judge retained after the review was requested.

Senior counsel Shane Murphy was also in attendance but it is unclear in what capacity he attended.

The golf dinner, attended by more than 80 people, went ahead despite Covid-19 public health guidelines placing limits on indoor gatherings.

Then minister for agriculture Dara Calleary and EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan both resigned in the wake of the controversy.

Mr Justice Woulfe issued a statement on August 21st in which he apologised “unreservedly” for his attendance and said he was of the impression the organisers of the event had made sure it would be in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines.

In a statement on August 24th, the Supreme Court said it had asked Ms Justice Denham to consider certain questions arising out of the judge’s attendance at the dinner. She was asked to consider whether he should, in all the circumstances, have left the hotel in light of the situation and whether he should have played golf without attending the dinner.

In the context of those questions, it said Ms Denham has also been asked to consider whether there are any relevant codes of practice or guidelines and to make any recommendations in that regard which she considers appropriate.

It said that a “non-statutory” approach to the review was required because the sections of the legislation establishing the Judicial Council, the newly created body covering codes of conduct and a mechanism to handle complaints against judges, have yet to be commenced.

Ms Denham’s review is expected to have been framed by international guidelines on judicial conduct. The Bangalore principles, endorsed at the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003, set an international guide on judicial ethics and say a judge should avoid impropriety, or the appearance of impropriety, in all their activities, and accept personal restrictions as a subject of constant public scrutiny.