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Séamus Woulfe meets former chief justice over Oireachtas dinner controversy

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Retired chief justice Susan Denham has met Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe concerning his attendance at the Oireachtas golf dinner, The Irish Times has learned.

Mr Justice Woulfe, a former Attorney General, was accompanied by Michael Collins SC when he met with Ms Denham in a boardroom on Tuesday at the Courts Service Green Street building.

Mr Justice Woulfe retained Mr Collins after Ms Denham was asked to report to the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, on Mr Woulfe’s decision to attend the dinner in Clifden on August 19th.

Senior Counsel Shane Murphy was also in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting which is understood to have lasted a number of hours.

It has not been confirmed when Ms Denham’s report will be provided but it is expected in the coming weeks and prior to the opening of the new law term on October 5th.

Attended by more than 80 people, the golf dinner went ahead despite Covid-19 public health guidelines placing limits on indoor gatherings.

Then minister for agriculture Dara Calleary resigned his position as a result of his attendance. Phil Hogan resigned his position as EU Trade Commissioner for the same reason.

Ms Justice Denham’s review of Mr Justice Woulfe’s attendance is expected to be framed by international guidelines on judicial conduct.

In the absence of defined Irish rules on how judges should behave, with the Judicial Council Act still not fully commenced, Ms Denham is expected to consider a United Nations code, known as the Bangalore principles, and rules in other countries with the common law system.

She has been asked to consider any relevant codes of practice or guidelines and to make any recommendations on the attendance of Mr Justice Woulfe at the dinner.

Her review is a non-statutory review because the parts of the Judicial Council Act that relate to judicial conduct have not yet been commenced. The judicial conduct committee, created in July, has 12 months to set guidelines.

The Act defines judicial misconduct as behaviour that departs from acknowledged standards of conduct requiring judges to uphold and exemplify judicial independence, integrity and propriety, or conduct that brings the administration of justice into disrepute.

The Bangalore principles, endorsed at the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003, set an international guide on judicial ethics. They say a judge should avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety in all their activities, and accept personal restrictions as a subject of constant public scrutiny.

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