Extraordinary stand-off as Judge Seamus Woulfe rebuffs several calls to resign

Extraordinary stand-off as Judge Seamus Woulfe rebuffs several calls to resign

Chief Justice Frank Clarke and Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe. The Chief Justice has no legal powers to remove Judge Woulfe but set out in emphatic terms that his departure was now required to restore public confidence in the Supreme Court which has suffered “very significant and irreparable damage”. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe has been told by the Chief Justice Frank Clarke that he should resign but is refusing to do so.

Judge Clarke has said he has come to the conclusion that on foot of his attendance at the ‘golfgate’ event and later commentary around it, his departure from this office is now required.

Following their delayed face to face meeting last week, an explosive series of letters have been exchanged between the two men, in which the Chief Justice made clear his personal view that the former Fine Gael attorney general step down.

The Chief Justice has no legal powers to remove Judge Woulfe but set out in emphatic terms that his departure was now required to restore public confidence in the Supreme Court which has suffered “very significant and irreparable damage”.

"It is not part of my role to ask, let alone tell, you to resign," wrote the Chief Justice.

"Resignation is and can only be for the judge him or herself. Regrettably, however, I believe that I should make clear my personal opinion that, to avoid continuing serious damage to the judiciary, you should resign.

"A judge should not attend any event which is organised in breach of the law or where there may be a reasonable public perception that this is so.

"To do so brings the law into disrepute and is therefore a serious breach of judicial ethics.

"A failure by a judge to observe these principles can lead to serious damage to public trust in, and respect for, the judiciary. That has occurred in this case.”

A Government spokeswoman told the Irish Examiner that the Attorney General Paul Gallagher has been asked to advise the Taoiseach and Government on the matter. “It would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this stage,” she said.

Previous meetings with the Chief Justice had been postponed or cancelled four times at Mr Woulfe's request, citing personal or medical reasons, despite the Chief Justice making clear he was anxious to have the matter resolved. Legal sources said the longer Mr Woulfe postponed the matter, the less likely it would be that he could join the Supreme Court bench.

 01/10/2020 Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke pictured leaving Green Street Court. Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
01/10/2020 Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke pictured leaving Green Street Court. Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Justice Clarke said the manner in which Judge Woulfe has met this problem has, in his view, added very substantially to the damage caused to the court.

"That account appeared to show that you did not appreciate the genuine public concern about the event and your attendance at it, but rather continued to put the controversy down to a media frenzy,” he wrote.

However, Judge Woulfe has strongly disagreed and rebuked Justice Clarke's conclusions in a letter by way of reply.

"I do not consider it in any way appropriate that I should resign," wrote Judge Woulfe.

"I do not think it is fair to criticise me by saying I did not respect such Guidelines in circumstances where I was simply not aware."

However, both men have resolved that Justice Woulfe would not sit on the court for three months and donate his salary in that time to charity by way of atonement for his poor judgment in August. Judge Woulfe will not be listed to sit as a judge until February 2021.

The event, which flouted public health regulations, caused huge public outrage and has seen a number of guests resign from their public posts, including then-minister for agriculture Dara Calleary, then-EU commissioner Phil Hogan, and then-Seanad leas-cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer.

Mr Woulfe's attendance at the event has been mired in controversy after a review into the incident by former Supreme Court Justice Denham.

Speaking last night, Opposition politicians ramped up the pressure, saying they will act to end this saga if necessary, under impeachment powers set out in the Constitution.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the legislature arm of state will have to act if this impasse continues.

Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said it is “not a desirable, or frankly tenable, situation for a Supreme Court judge to remain in office if he does not enjoy the confidence of the Chief Justice or his colleagues.”

 

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