Cabinet crisis as judiciary accuse it of interfering with independence

The Government is facing a major political crisis after the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI) again accused it of interfering with the independence of the judiciary and claimed all avenues of communication had broken down.

In a statement, the AJI supported comments made by Mr Justice Peter Kelly at a business function where he accused the Government of dismantling the independence of the judiciary “brick by brick”.

Last night’s statement by the AJI is a major embarrassment and challenge to Justice Minister Alan Shatter who earlier yesterday responded to Mr Justice Kelly’s comments saying any suggestion that there was political interference in Ireland’s judicial system could do damage to its international reputation.

There were also calls last night for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to intervene in the public spat.

The statement said reports of Justice Kelly’s speech at a dinner hosted by PWC for business leaders was broadly accurate but contained a number of inaccuracies.

The judges group said for 90 years there had been no need for an association of judges, given the mutual respect demonstrated by the executive and judicial branches of government. However, AJI said “all structures both formal and informal which existed for communication between those two branches of government have ceased”.

In a direct attack on the minister and the Government, the statement last night outlined direct actions by the Government which have affected its independence. It said:

* Judges accepted their fair share of salary cuts. However, a request that an independent body be established to fix such remuneration to ensure judicial independence was dismissed out of hand;

* Legislation was passed in respect of pension provisions for new judges without notice or consultation which has major consequences for judicial recruitment;

* The Personal Insolvency Act was enacted without any notice or debate concerning the insolvency judges who are to be recruited in the first instance solely from the ranks of county registrars;

* There has been no consultation with the judiciary about three further constitutional referendums in the coming months. No wording concerning these has been forthcoming although they all have huge implications for the judiciary. No details were forthcoming about proposals for specialist family courts.

Furthermore, the proposed abolition of the Seanad renders the removal of judges subject only to a simple majority vote in the Dáil. The statement said all these matters have implications for judicial independence.

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