In correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act, Chief Justice Susan Denham said the judges have been working in temperatures as low as 13.5C and warned Minister for State Simon Harris that if there is no adequate heating in the Supreme Court, she would have to cancel court sittings.
In the letter released by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and dated January 30, 2015, Chief Justice Denham said: “This I loath to do as cases are important and urgent for the parties, but this is a significant health matter.”
Chief Justice Denham told Mr Harris that “the court and conference room of the Supreme Court were so cold that I brought a thermometer and took the temperature for some days from Monday, January 19”.
Chief Justice Denham’s letter includes two pages listing 25 separate temperature readings over the course of a week. She said this showed the “entirely inadequate heating in the Supreme Court”.
Chief Justice Denham told Mr Harris that on Wednesday, January 21, “the heating system failed to come on and engineers did not resolve the problem until close to 11am. This matter is a significant health issue”.
Describing the heating at the Four Courts as “a serious issue”, Chief Justice Denham reminded Mr Harris that “this issue is not new” and referred to similar concerns she raised in December 2013.
In a letter to Mr Harris’s predecessor, Brian Hayes, in 2013, Chief Justice Denham said she was writing to him to express her own concerns and those of members on the Supreme Court about the heating system in the Four Courts.
She wrote in that letter: “A number of members of the court have fallen ill in this time and I believe that the cold temperatures have been a factor in this.”
Chief Justice Denham had also threatened on that occasion to cancel sittings of the court.
In reply to Chief Justice Denham’s recent letter, Mr Harris — who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works — wrote: “The Commissioners of Public Works very much regret that the heating system has given so much trouble recently.
“They have assured that their engineers are doing everything they can currently to ensure that adequate heat is provided.”
The chief executive of the Courts Service, Brendan Ryan, also wrote to Chief Justice Denham and apologised “for the ongoing discomfort and disruption caused due to the problems with the heating in the Four Courts… which is outside the direct control of this organisation”.
He added that “despite the best efforts of the Courts Service, the heating system in the Four Courts remains totally unreliable”.