Séamus Woulfe did ‘nothing involving impropriety’ to justify resignation, Denham report finds

Calling for judge to stand down from Supreme Court over golf dinner ‘unjust and disproportionate’

The report found that Mr Justice Woulfe could have attended the golfing event without attending the dinner, and that he should not have accepted the invitation to dinner. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The report found that Mr Justice Woulfe could have attended the golfing event without attending the dinner, and that he should not have accepted the invitation to dinner. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Calling for the resignation of Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe from the Supreme Court because of his attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden in August would be “unjust and disproportionate”, a report has concluded.

“Mr Justice Woulfe did nothing involving impropriety such as would justify calls for his resignation from office,” the former Chief Justice, Susan Denham, has concluded.

She found that there were a number of mitigating factors involved in the judge’s attendance at the controversial dinner, including his being newly-appointed at the time, his not yet having sat as a judge, the fact that he had not had the benefit of any introductory programme following his appointment, and the fact that there were no judicial guidelines to assist him.

Referring to herself as the Reviewer, Ms Justice Denham said she was “of the opinion that it would be open to the Chief Justice to deal with this matter by way of informal resolution.”

The report was commissioned by the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, and was reviewed earlier today by the board of the Judicial Council and discussed by the members of the Supreme Court, apart from Mr Justice Woulfe.

The report found that Mr Justice Woulfe could have attended the golfing event without attending the dinner, and that he should not have accepted the invitation to dinner.

‘Not sufficiently vigilant’

In the light of the latter finding, there was no reason to answer the third question that she had been asked to examine by Mr Justice Clarke, which was whether Mr Justice Woulfe should have left the hotel in the circumstances, in the context of the golf outing dinner.

Ms Justice Denham concluded that it “would have been better if Mr Justice Woulfe had not attended the dinner, in order to avoid a risk of controversy which could impact the Supreme Court”.

“The Reviewer is of the opinion, that the advisability of the attendance by a member of the Supreme Court at a celebratory dinner, in a hotel in a public place, at a time of pandemic, required to be considered independently of compliance with the issue of Covid-19 Regulations.

“In the opinion of the Reviewer this was not done by Mr Justice Woulfe. The Reviewer is of the opinion that Mr Justice Woulfe did not consider the dinner invitation from the point of view of his new status as a judge of the Supreme Court and in this regard Mr Justice Woulfe was not sufficiently vigilant.”

Mr Justice Woulfe told the review that he had been invited to the golf event before he became a judge, and that afterwards he had been concerned as to whether it was appropriate for him to attend the event.

After discussing the matter with his wife, he decided that, the safest thing to do was to raise the issue of the Oireachtas Golf Society event with the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Clarke, according to the report.

“On Wednesday 29th July, 2020 Mr Justice Woulfe was crossing the yard at the Four Courts and met the Chief Justice. Mr Justice Woulfe called out to the Chief Justice, saying that because he was new he just wanted to check something with him.

“He said that he had been invited to the Oireachtas Golf Society outing. Mr Justice Woulfe emphasised that it was a non-political event.

“Mr Justice Woulfe recollects the Chief Justice said something like “I don’t see any problem with that”.

“Mr Justice Woulfe pointed out to the Reviewer, in fairness to the Chief Justice, that he did not raise the issue as to whether there would be a dinner or not.”

Response

During the review an engineer’s report on the Station House Hotel, including a floor plan of where the dinner took place, was submitted on behalf of Mr Justice Woulfe and considered by Ms Justice Denham.

In a short statement today, the board of the Judicial Council said it had given an indemnity to Ms Justice Denham in respect of her work in carrying out the review in relation to her legal expenses and any litigation that might ensue.

The indemnity allowed the board give consideration to the publication of the report, it said.

“The board considers that publication is consistent with its statutory functions and conversely not to publish would have had an adverse impact on these same functions.”

Responding to the report, the Supreme Court said it has noted the content and the account of the events given by Mr Justice Woulfe. “The Supreme Court fully accepts the conclusions and recommendations contained in the review. The resolution process recommended in the review will now commence.”