Irish judicial infrastructure is neglected and remains ’Cinderella’ of state pillars: Susan Denham

Irish judicial infrastructure is neglected and remains  ’Cinderella’ of state pillars: Susan Denham
Outgoing Chief Justice, Susan Denham

The judiciary has been the "Cinderella" of the three pillars of the State and there is still no Judicial Council despite some 20 years of talking about it with government, the outgoing Chief Justice Susan Denham has said.

By Ann O’Loughlin

The failure to act means Ireland lacks an institution which is the norm in other democratic states and also illustrates "a neglect of the judiciary, the third branch of government".

She made the remarks in an address marking her last formal sitting in the Supreme Court today as Chief Justice.

"The judiciary has been the Cinderella of the three sisters - the three great organs of State, the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary," she said.

Many judges had spoken about this for some 20 years and she first discussed it in 1997 with then Justice Minister Nora Owen in 1997. There had been "many discussions since" and former Chief Justice Ronan Keane had chaired a committee that in 2000 recommended a Judicial Council be established.

"We have been talking about it for the last 20 years, and conferencing on draft bills since 2000. I do hope that it will come to fruition."

The situation has been recognised by the Council of Europe which in 2014 made five recommendations to Ireland to relation to the judiciary. These were that a Judicial Council be established, the system for appointing judges be reviewed, a special pay and conditions body, a code of conduct and a dedicated training unit for judges be established.

"The Government failed to act on any of these recommendations."

A 2017 compliance report had found, because of the low level of compliance with the COE recommendations, Ireland is "globally unsatisfactory", she noted.

This neglect of a judicial infrastructure contrasted with the "immense programme" of court building since 1999, including the iconic Criminal Courts of Justice.

She hoped the proposed new Supreme Court building, to also include 19 family courts and two Children’s Courts, would proceed to fruition because the existing Supreme Court building is not suitable for the court, she said.

The Chief Justice also observed Ireland’s 163 judges represents the lowest number of judges per head of population of the 47 Council of Europe states who consequently carry a "very heavy workload" which was a factor in delays within the system.

However, the Irish judiciary is regarded very highly at international level and recognised for its integrity and independence, she added.

Irish judicial infrastructure is neglected and remains  ’Cinderella’ of state pillars: Susan Denham

The Chief Justice said she was glad she joined the judiciary when she had in 1991 as there was a sense then it had remained unchanged for centuries and "gossamer glinted through the buildings, procedures and structures."

She felt "a stepping back in time" but there was thus the opening and opportunity to bring about change.

It had been a "great honour" and privilege to have been a judge and Chief Justice and she very much appreciated the support and warm friendship of her colleagues. It was a great honour to uphold and interpret the Constitution, a "prescient" document ahead of its time, with five of 50 Articles devoted to the protection of fundamental rights.

She noted a "great change" in the place of women in the courts since she joined an almost exclusively male Bar in 1971. When she first sat at the Supreme Court conference table in 1992, she was very conscious no woman had sat there before.

She said she felt she had with her two women - Gwyneth Bebb whose application to be a solicitor was refused by the courts here in 1913 on grounds she was not a "person" under the Solicitors Act 1843, and Weir Johnson who in 1901 was told by the Kings Inns it was "not competent for a lady" to join the Irish Bar.

There has been an "immense change" and now some 37 per cent of Irish judges are women.

On becoming Chief Justice in 2011, she got many letters of congratulation, not just on being the first woman to hold the office but also the first person from the Protestant faith.

She thanked her colleagues, secretaries and staff and also commended journalists reporting the Supreme Court for "excellent reporting" of the complex matters before it. For the rule of law to flourish in a democracy, an understanding and knowledge of what happens in our court is required.

She particularly thanked her family, especially her husband Brian, "for their loving support and for putting up with my long hours of work".

More on this topic

Derby duo avoid jail sentenceDerby duo avoid jail sentence

Cuba Gooding Jr pleads not guilty to sex misconduct claimsCuba Gooding Jr pleads not guilty to sex misconduct claims

High Court judge makes orders requiring residents to vacate three central Dublin propertiesHigh Court judge makes orders requiring residents to vacate three central Dublin properties

'I'm not saying she was asking for it but she knew what she was doing': Defence lawyer at Cork rape trial'I'm not saying she was asking for it but she knew what she was doing': Defence lawyer at Cork rape trial


More in this Section

Man, 30s, dies following stabbing incident in Dublin; two men arrestedMan, 30s, dies following stabbing incident in Dublin; two men arrested

One northbound lane of M8 reopens following surface floodingOne northbound lane of M8 reopens following surface flooding

Councillors who bowed out at May's local elections to receive retirement gratuitiesCouncillors who bowed out at May's local elections to receive retirement gratuities

Brexit deal can be negotiated in time for EU summit, insists GovernmentBrexit deal can be negotiated in time for EU summit, insists Government


Lifestyle

I am dating a lovely guy. However, he seems really awkward about being naked in front of me.Sex File: Boyfriend keeps his T-shirt on during sex

To instantly power up your look, veer towards the hard shoulder.Bold shoulder: How to instantly power up your look

Plums are a wonderful autumn fruit, useful for all sorts of recipes both sweet and savoury. In Ireland we are blessed with wonderfully sweet plums.Currabinny Cooks: Juicy plums work for both sweet and savoury dishes

The rise of home skincare devices doesn't mean that salons and clinics no longer serve a purpose.The Skin Nerd: Don’t try this at home — new treatments in the salon

More From The Irish Examiner