Chief Justice agrees to mediate with Government

An increasingly bitter dispute between judges and the Government has been defused after the Chief Justice Susan Denham secured agreement on a new mediation system.

Chief Justice agrees to mediate with Government

An increasingly bitter dispute between judges and the Government has been defused after the Chief Justice Susan Denham secured agreement on a new mediation system.

The Attorney General Marie Whelan will act as go-between for the organs of state after a row over pay cuts and reforms threatened an unprecedented constitutional fall-out.

“Because of the concerns of the judiciary, I suggested to the Government that there should be more regular engagement to facilitate constructive discussion on these and other matters of mutual concern and interest to the judiciary and the executive,” the judge said.

“This process of engagement has now commenced, and a further meeting was held last Monday.”

The dispute between government and the judiciary deepened at the weekend following comments from Judge Peter Kelly, president of the Association of Judges, who warned of a breakdown in communications.

The association went on to list a series of issues they were unhappy with including changes to pensions, reforms to bring in a Court of Appeal and a planned referendum to abolish the Seanad.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter was accused of bringing the Government to the verge of constitutional crisis after he attacked the judiciary over the complaints.

He also faced warnings that any suggestion of political interference in the judicial system would do great damage to Ireland’s international reputation.

At an address tonight to the Law Society in Griffith College Dublin, the Chief Justice warned that there are issues of serious concern to the judiciary.

She said a new forum within which matters of mutual concern to judges and the executive could be considered, has been accepted by Government. A meeting has been held and further discussions are planned.

A meeting has also been planned between the Chief Justice and Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss issues of mutual concern that emerge.

Ms Denham said new structures were needed to deal with issues and she said that involving the Attorney General was the positive and proper route.

The Chief Justice also said she was delighted that the Government is taking steps to introduce a Court of Appeal to deal with both civil and criminal cases.

She also praised the efforts of judges to increase their workload over the last few years.

“They have – in court – imaginatively and with deep compassion dealt with those who have been led to the courts by debt issues,” she said.

“They have in work practice continued to show an enormous willingness to change and to undertake more work with less resources. One calculation has seen our Courts Service increase productivity by 25% in the past time of economic challenge.

The judiciary played an important part in that achievement.”

Judges have complained that a request for an independent body to be established to fix their remuneration rates was dismissed out of hand.

They warned of major consequences for recruitment to the judiciary if reductions in pensions – extending by a third the length of time superior court judges have to serve to obtain a pension – are pushed through.

They also criticised the manner in which a new insolvency regime is being brought in and plans to abolish the Seanad through a referendum.

Following the meeting with the Attorney General, the association said concerns of judges about judicial independence had been raised by Judge Kelly.

“The meeting was cordial and fruitful. As a result, the AJI is satisfied that its concerns are fully understood and that progress will be made by mutual co-operation in resolving issues,” the association said.

“The AJI is grateful to the Attorney General for her assistance in this regard.”

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