Who holds judiciary to account when they get it wrong?

THE CASUAL ignorance of the remark was jaw-droppingly offensive; the so-called apology, if anything, even more damning — and the fact both were uttered by a judge was deeply worrying.

Judge Mary Devins’s outrageous slur on Polish immigrants once again begs the question: How do these people get selected to judge the rest of us?

Devins was hearing the case of a trainee plumber who called a nightclub bouncer a “fat Polish fucker” — the fact the bouncer in question was Irish shows the level of intelligence of the kind of people who bandy about such sweepingly ignorant remarks.

The original case had been heard by a different judge, Conal Gibbons, who described the man’s abusive remarks as “quasi-racist comments” and added these sorts of views had to be stopped in their tracks.

The case was adjourned until last week after Judge Gibbons ordered the guilty party to save up and pay a Polish charity €1,000 in lieu of a conviction and a fine.

Enter Devins to take over the case, and rather than “stopping such views in their tracks”, she decided to add a few bigoted ones of her own, namely when talk turned to whether there was such a charity in Ireland, she announced: “A Polish charity? There is. It’s called the social welfare.”

So far, so ignorant, but then along comes Devins’s so-called apology — issued at taxpayers’ expense via the Courts Service.

It was such a cack-handed effort, a second one had to be put out — but only after immigrant body the Integration Centre made it clear it intended to lodge a formal complaint with the gardaí regarding her remarks.

A judge needing two goes at an apology for bigoted, offensive, remarks? It does not inspire confidence in the judicial system, does it?

In the first so-called apology Devins said the offensive remark was “made in the context of — and alluding to — another, recent, violent, alcohol-fuelled incident” which “involved several defendants of Polish origin who were all recipients of social welfare payments”.

So, not only was she bringing in a totally separate court case as a reference point for the one she was hearing, but she somehow thought it appropriate to compare a case about a “quasi-racist comment” against someone believed to be Polish with a completely different case where a few Poles happened to be defendants, and happened to be on social welfare?

And because those particular individuals happened to be on the dole, that means she felt she could make sweeping, ignorant comments about all Polish people?

Imagine if a defendant who happened to be Jewish had come before a judge and that judge had extrapolated out particular traits of his behaviour or lifestyle to all Jewish people — can you imagine the outrage?

Do we really want someone like that sitting in judgment in our society?

But unless Devins resigns we have to put up with her, as there is no disciplinary mechanism for dealing with people in these positions of immense power.

The most that could befall her is that she is asked by the president of the district court to come to his office for a short, private chat — and Devins could just ignore that request if she wanted.

In other, more enlightened, jurisdictions, there would be a procedure for Devins to be disciplined by her peers if they felt she deserved it, such as being sent on an educational programme intended to cure her of such sweeping ignorance.

But in Ireland judges are gods and cannot be touched, except by a Dáil impeachment for the most grave of offences.

And it is not as if Devins does not have previous. She has in the past accused Polish defendants of “wasting the State’s money” by daring to ask for interpreters, as she insisted they should have bothered to learn English properly.

The fact that conversation was being conducted in perfectly clear English appeared to escape her. The Poles in question just wanted to make sure they understood any nuances of the legal language used — which can be impenetrable to people who have English as their mother tongue, too.

As Devins cannot be disciplined, is it really over the top to call for this judge to do the decent thing and resign?

Well, just imagine the uproar if an equally condescending and bigoted British judge had said: “Yes there is such a thing as a charity catering for the Irish in the UK — it is called the dole.”

Every politician in Ireland would be trampling over each other to get to the nearest microphone first to rightly demand that judge be sacked from the bench and never allowed to rule on Irish-related cases again.

Devins’s first so-called apology contained the classic non-apology apology line: “If insult was taken from my comment I apologise for same.” So, it was for you to take offence, not for her to give it — thanks for that, Your Honour.

The non-apology was so appallingly inadequate that Devins had to put out one that actually sounded as if she meant it (following the threat of possible police involvement). She stated: “I understand and accept the hurt these comments caused to members of the Polish community. This was never my intention and I express my sorrow for same.”

Well, it is always nice to get there in the end, but it would have been a tad better if she had not been so sweepingly offensive in the first place, and had not taken two stabs at an apology to strike anything remotely like the right tone and accept her appalling error of judgment.

But then, they are very cunning those Poles, aren’t they? If they are not all scrounging benefits, they are stealing all the jobs as well. Best to stigmatise them for the sake of it, as they are bound to be pulling one trick or the other.

Judges, overwhelmingly originating from a very narrow social background and expressing an equally narrow perception of wider society, need to know they are not above judgment themselves.

They should not — ever — be subject to political pressure, but must be accountable to disciplinary mechanisms within their own profession.

Devins clearly needs reminding that justice is supposed to be blind — not ignorant.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

LOTTO RESULTS

Saturday, August 6, 2022

  • 8
  • 20
  • 26
  • 30
  • 36
  • 46
  • 38

Full Lotto draw results »