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Supreme Court sends Denham report on Séamus Woulfe to Judicial Council

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The Supreme Court said it met on Wednesday to consider the report of former chief justice Susan Denham into the attendance of Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.

In a statement, it said it had sent the report to the recently established Judicial Council to enable the council to consider publishing it in furtherance of its statutory function of maintaining confidence in the judiciary .

While all judges are members of the council, the report has not been circulated widely, but confined only to the board members, it is understood, which include the heads of the five courts (the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High, Circuit and District Courts) and six other judges.

Nor has it been seen by Government, sources say, where Ministers are of the view that it is – so far at least – a matter for the judiciary.

Legal and political sources believe Mr Justice Woulfe is “digging in” and does not intend to resign, though they acknowledge if the Denham Report and the attitude of the Judicial Council were that a resignation was warranted, it would be hard for him to hold out.

It is understood the board of the Judicial Council is to meet tomorrow. The publication of the report is not expected until after that at the earliest.

Indemnified Ms Justice Denham

It is also understood the council has indemnified Ms Justice Denham against any legal action she may face as a result of publication.

In August the court had asked Ms Denham to carry out a review concerning the Supreme Court judge’s attendance at the event in Clifden.

Ms Denham was asked to consider whether Mr Justice Woulfe should, in all the circumstances, have left the hotel in light of the situation prevailing and whether he should have played golf without attending the dinner.

In the context of those questions, Ms Denham was also asked to consider whether there are any relevant codes of practice or guidelines and to make any recommendations in that regard which she considers appropriate.

The Judicial Council was established in December 2019 with a remit that included promoting and maintaining public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice.

Codes of conduct

The Supreme Court took a “non-statutory approach” by asking Ms Justice Denham to carry out her report into the matter because the relevant sections of the Judicial Council Act 2019 covering codes of conduct for the judiciary and complaints against judges have not yet been commenced.

The judicial conduct committee, established under the Act, was only set up in July and has 12 months to set guidelines on the conduct of judges.

The section of the law governing judicial conduct and complaints about judges will not start until the guidelines have been adopted by the council.

The board is comprised of Chief Justice Frank Clarke; the presidents of the Court of Appeal, High, Circuit and District Courts; two Supreme Court judges – Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell and Mr Justice William McKechnie; Mr Justice Michael McGrath of the High Court; Circuit Court Judge John Aylmer and District Court Judge Elizabeth McGrath.

Mr Justice Woulfe, the former attorney general, was among more than 80 guests who attended a dinner on August 19th after two days of golf. The event at the Co Galway hotel went ahead despite Covid-19 public health guidelines placing limits on indoor gatherings. It was attended by several TDs and Senators, along with former TDs and senators.

The controversy surrounding the event has led to the resignation of Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary as minister for agriculture and European Commissioner Phil Hogan.

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