Woulfe not ‘sufficiently vigilant’ about position as a new Supreme Court judge, report finds

Judge ‘failed to consider’ whether attendance in middle of a pandemic ‘might be an impropriety’

Mr Justice Woulfe’s vigilance as a newly-appointed judge was not yet fully honed into the judicial sphere when the August controversy erupted, report found.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Mr Justice Woulfe’s vigilance as a newly-appointed judge was not yet fully honed into the judicial sphere when the August controversy erupted, report found. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe was not “sufficiently vigilant” about his position as a newly-appointed Supreme Court judge when he accepted an invitation to the Golfgate Clifden dinner, former Chief Justice, Susan Denham has said.

He had “failed to consider” whether his attendance “in the middle of a pandemic, might be an impropriety, or might create the appearance of an impropriety, to reasonable members of the public”.

However, she found that Mr Justice Woulfe’s vigilance as a newly-appointed judge was not yet fully honed into the judicial sphere when the August controversy erupted.

A judge has to take care that his or her conduct, on or off the Bench, does not undermine the independence of the judiciary, either by an inappropriate action or by the appearance of an inappropriate action, she said.

However, he had done nothing “ involving impropriety such as would justify calls for his resignation from office, she wrote: “Such a step would be unjust and disproportionate.”

Believing that the dinner complied with existing Covid-19 regulations, she said, adding that it “was not unreasonable” for him to do so since the room had 45 diners and then existing rules barred gatherings of more than 50.

“Mr Justice Woulfe got caught up in a media controversy over the dinner in Clifden. He was reported negatively in the media, and this reflected negatively on the Supreme Court, which is a collegiate court.”

“There is a great difference between four people sitting down together after a game of golf to have a bite to eat, and a larger formal celebratory dinner in a hotel, with speeches and a prize giving, during a pandemic.”

She disagreed with Mr Justice Woulfe’s view that it would have been ridiculous for him to have consulted the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, on the matter, on the evening of the dinner.

Mr Justice Woulfe, she heard , was “absolutely dumbfounded” to learn later that Dara Calleary had resigned as a minister. New rules had been announced, he knew, but they would not come into force for some days.