Judges and lawyers rally in defence of High Court judge
Ireland’s judiciary and legal professions have rallied in defence of a High Court judge who was singled out for criticism by a TD after striking down a law setting minimum pay and conditions for workers in certain sectors.
Bríd Smith, People Before Profit TD for Dublin South-Central, sharply criticised Mr Justice Garrett Simons in the Dáil and in posts on social media, some of which described him as “right-wing” and “upper class”.
Mr Justice David Barniville, president of the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), said the comments “go far beyond the boundaries of legitimate criticism and amount to an extraordinary and wholly unjustified attack on the integrity and independence of the judge”.
The judgment in question, handed down on Tuesday, struck down provisions of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 which allow the government to issue sectoral employment orders (SEOs) setting out minimum pay and conditions.
“As with all judges, Mr Justice Simons, on taking up office as a judge, made the declaration required in the Constitution of that he would carry out his functions as a judge ‘without fear or favour, affection or ill will’ towards any person and that he would uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State,” Mr Justice Barniville said.
“In deciding the case before him on the basis of the facts, legal submissions and previous case law, including a number of relevant decisions of the Supreme Court by which he was bound, the judge acted entirely in accordance with that declaration.
“In the event, he decided the case against the State parties, exemplifying the independence of the judiciary where judges do not hesitate to decide cases adverse to the State where, in their view, that is the legally correct outcome. The State is free to appeal the judge’s decision, if it so decides.”
“The suggestion that the judge’s judgment was ideologically-motivated is baseless and dangerous,” he added. “That such comments should be made by a member of Dáil Eireann is particularly concerning.”
Micheál P O’Higgins SC, chair of the Council of the Bar of Ireland, said the “personalised attack on a judge by a member of Dáil Eireann amounts to an attack on our democracy and is something that all of society should be gravely concerned about”.
“The coarsening of public discourse on social media is a depressing reality of the world we live in, he added. “Using that platform to make populist and personalised attacks on judges – who cannot personally defend themselves – debases politics and endangers citizens who look to the courts for protection.”
Michele O’Boyle, president of the Law Society of Ireland, said it is “not appropriate for a politician to launch a personalised attack on the impartiality or the integrity of a judge” and called on “all who respect the rule of law to reject populist attacks on the judiciary and to distance themselves from this latest very regrettable example”.
Neither Ms Smith nor her party, People Before Profit, responded to a request for comment from Irish Legal News, but the party has since published an article which concludes: “There is no real separation between the different branches of the ruling elite. The independence of the judiciary is a myth. And for daring to say that, Bríd Smith TD has been targeted by the establishment.
“It tells us one thing: talk about social class in Ireland is what really gets up their nose. Let’s keep it up.”