Denham report and Seamus Woulfe – has justice been served?

 

A chara, – It is said that if the worst had happened to Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe and he had been forced to resign, he would not have been able to return to practise as a barrister. Not so. This point was settled fairly conclusively in similar circumstances, in 1992-93, when Harry Whelehan, another former attorney general, was forced to resign, after three days, as president of the High Court.

Following a near-unanimous vote of the Bar, the unsurprising decision was to allow Mr Whelehan to return to earn his living at the Bar. Mr Justice Woulfe’s sophisticated legal team would surely have known of this precedent.

It is reported that “legal sources” have opined that former chief justice Susan Denham’s report might have attracted libel proceedings and so made it necessary to indemnify her.

But, as Mr Pickwick put it, if the law says that, then the law is an ass. Mr Pickwick had sound instincts. As might be expected, while the Irish law of libel is draconian, non-malicious statements made as a matter of duty are privileged against legal action.

It is worth drawing attention to these two obvious canards because statements of this sort, which usually turn out to support the Establishment, lead many people to think that the law is a complicated bag of tricks for the support of the Establishment. And looking even beyond the present episode, if this view takes wing, then the rule of law is undermined, and this would be very dangerous in a world which is tending in a Trump or Putin direction. – Yours, etc,

DAVID GWYNN MORGAN,

Emeritus Professor

of Law,

University College Cork.

A chara, – Former chief justice Susan Denham has recommended the introduction of a code of judicial conduct and judicial ethical guidelines.

What’s wrong with using basic common sense, one’s moral compass or, God forbid, good judgment? For perspective, my daughter Juliet, like so many people her age, continues to understand what social distancing is, and why she must social distance and how to socially distance. She is four years old. – Is mise,

JASON POWER,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Under section 80 of the Judicial Council Act 2019, which has not yet been brought into force, the Judicial Council’s Judicial Conduct Committee can recommend to the Minister for Justice that a judge should be removed from office when their conduct “is of such gravity” as to warrant that penalty. The Minister must then, in turn, place a resolution before the Dáil seeking their removal.

As such, the only real question before Mrs Justice Susan Denham in her examination of the Clifden dinner affair was, if the 2019 Act was in force, would that committee have recommended that Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe be removed from office? The answer to this question could only have been a clear and unambiguous “No”.

An answer in the affirmative would have set an incredibly low bar for the removal of judges from office and represented a major threat to the independence of the judiciary. It would also have the effect of reducing the quality of candidates for the bench, since no talented lawyer in their right mind would risk seeking judicial office if a foolish minor transgression could be used to end their careers.

Mrs Justice Denham deserves credit for approaching this issue with a common sense which has been entirely lacking since this affair first erupted. – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir: – Due to Covid-19, I have been in strict lockdown since March 2020. This means that I had plenty of time to digest the report of former chief justice Susan Denham on the actions of Supreme Court justice Seamus Woulfe, as he golfed and socialised and had dinner with a large group in a Galway hotel.

To paraphrase Donald Trump, the report was fabulous, fantastic, unbiased and completely transparent. It was probably the most fantastic and unbiased report in the history of the Irish nation. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA MOYNIHAN,

Castaheany,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Say I host a house party and the Garda­ raid the house for breach of Covid-19 restrictions involving multiple households. Will I also be allowed to commission an engineer’s report?

I presume that former chief justice Susan Denham will be similarly available to me or anybody in the land to write up a report. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW LALLY,

Paris.

Sir, – Can Phil Hogan and Dara Calleary have their jobs back since it was “not unreasonable” for them to believe the golf dinner “was Covid-19 compliant” and they have committed “no breach of law”? – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN DOHERTY,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Dhún na nGall.

Sir, – Given that the report “did not have the power to make enforceable findings”, I am afraid it’s a case of much ado about nothing! – Yours, etc,

TADHG McCARTHY,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I would have thought that persons appointed as judges should routinely exercise a modicum of – what’s the word? – judgment. – Yours, etc,

PAT NOLAN,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Your editorial of October 2nd states that Dara Calleary and Phil Hogan had to resign over the “Golfgate” episode.

This statement is incorrect.

Dara Calleary resigned of his own volition because he realised he made a bad error of judgement. His quick decision might stand to him in the long term. Phil Hogan decided to jump before he was obviously going to be pushed.

Both individuals came to the conclusion, albeit one quicker than the other, that their reputations were damaged as a result of making a wrong decision.

The public is now being expected to accept a different standard from a Supreme Court judge. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN MURPHY,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Unfortunately Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe is not an “ordinary citizen”, as he may have claimed to Mrs Justice Susan Denham.

He has been given powers and therefore responsibilities far beyond the “ordinary” man or woman of this country. He has, through his rather thoughtless actions, brought the judicial system into an area where it has been embarrassed and opened himself to justifiable criticism.

No reasonable person could not feel some sympathy for his predicament.

He should have, as a Supreme Court judge, held himself up to a higher standard than that which he did.

In not doing so, he must then be looked at in the same way as other prominent political and other individuals. They not only apologised, but resigned, as he now surely must. The public will see that as the right thing for him to do to restore public confidence in the judiciary. – Yours, etc,

STEWART DUFFY, BL

Donabate,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – Am I right in thinking that Seamus Woulfe used the excuse that he was on holiday in Donegal for not being aware of the most recent Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines?

Not alone do we have electricity and running water in our homes here in Dún na nGall, we also have the luxury of radio, television and smartphones. – Is mise,

SEÁN MÍCHEÁL

Ó DOMHNAILL,

Ardara,

Co Donegal.

Sir, – The claim by Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe that he had no idea there was another group feasting on the other side of a hotel dining room’s partition is risible. That he seemingly needed judicial guidelines to apply common sense in such a situation is more worrying than laughable.

Still, the illustrious fraternity of justices convened, duly deliberated and pronounced its decision.

A precedent has been set. One rule for us. Another for them. Unfair and disproportionate indeed. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA MULKEEN,

Ballinfull,

Sligo.

Sir, – In Ireland it seems the judges judge themselves. Is this just, democratic or even moral?

Perhaps the judges might ponder this question while we await their judgment. – Yours, etc,

CYNTHIA HALPIN,

Skerries,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – What a relief it is that the word “Covidiot” is not a legal term. – Yours, etc,

FRANK DESMOND,

Cork.