Barristers cannot discriminate against clients on the basis of politics, Bar Council says

Statement made after Jim O’Callaghan (FF) criticised for representing former SF leader

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said Jim  O’Callaghan, who is a barrister, could have recused himself from representing former Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said Jim O’Callaghan, who is a barrister, could have recused himself from representing former Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Barristers cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of their politics, the Bar Council has said in response to a controversy about the Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice, Jim O’Callaghan.

The council, which represents most of the State’s barristers, issued a statement about members’ duties that did not refer to Mr O’Callaghan but which was prompted by statements about Mr O’Callaghan made by Fine Gael politicians.

Speaking on Clare FM, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said Mr O’Callaghan, who is a barrister, could have recused himself from representing former Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams.

The Irish Independent carried a report on Friday pointing out that Mr O’Callaghan represented Mr Adams in a case against the publishers of the Sunday World. The proceedings were issued in 2015 but have yet to come to court.

Mr Varadkar said Mr O’Callaghan, who was elected to the Dáil in 2016, could have recused himself from the proceedings.

“Now isn’t it a conflict of interest that the Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson, who was legal advisor to Micheál Martin before he was justice spokesperson, is representing the (then) leader of Sinn Féin, the former leader of Sinn Féin, in the courts? “

On the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme on RTÉ, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, said the Bar Council’s code of conduct allowed barristers to “step away from a case” where there is a likelihood of a conflict of interest arising.

“Is it fair for Jim O’Callaghan to come out and lambast Sinn Féin for their policies or for their past political manoeuvres and still be able to take their coin by doing their work,” she said.

The Bar Council later released a statement in which it did not refer to the controversy directly or name any of the parties involved.

It said it was the duty of barristers to be independent and free from any influence, especially influences that might arise from their personal interests or external pressure.

“Barristers cannot discriminate in favour of or against any person availing, or seeking to avail, of the services of the barrister on the grounds of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, politics, religion, nationality, national or social origin, national minority, birth or other status.”

It said these rules were detailed in its code of conduct, to which all members were bound.

“ It is in accordance with the provision that everyone is entitled to access to justice, which is central to trust in the Irish legal system and the rule of law.”