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Chief Justice’s statement appears to put extra pressure on Woulfe

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The tone and content of the short statement issued on Tuesday on behalf of the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, in relation to his Supreme Court colleague Séamus Woulfe, is being interpreted by senior figures in the Law Library as designed to put significant additional pressure on the recently-appointed judge.

One senior barrister said it was difficult to see why the Chief Justice would have said what he did, if he wanted Mr Justice Woulfe to continue as a member of the court.

Another senior figure said that he would not put it that far, but that it was obvious that the delay in the planned meeting going ahead was now a third factor in the crisis affecting the court.

“The longer it goes on, the less feasible it is for him to sit on the Supreme Court,” said a third senior counsel.

Mr Justice Woulfe was appointed to the court in July but has yet to hear a case. He was to have met with Mr Justice Clarke on Tuesday as part of the “informal resolution” process initiated two weeks ago to resolve a controversy that has continued since the former attorney general’s attendance at the August 21st Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.

The postponement of the meeting with the Chief Justice was the third deferral of a meeting between the two men, all at Mr Justice Woulfe’s request. A meeting that was to have been held last Friday was deferred on medical grounds.

Continuing controversy

Each step in the continuing controversy is being marked by short statements from the Chief Justice, and continuing silence from Mr Justice Woulfe.

This has left extensive scope for people to wonder as to what is going on, both in relation to Mr Justice Woulfe’s attitude, and the attitudes of his nine colleagues on the court (two are ex officio members of the court).

In the short statement issued on his behalf on Wednesday, the Chief Justice expressed his “very serious concern as to the damage which the continuation of this process is causing”.

The statement continued: “The Chief Justice has made it clear that, should the meeting not go ahead as scheduled on Thursday, he will make alternative arrangements to convey his final views on the process to Mr Justice Woulfe.”

It was widely reported earlier this month that Mr Justice Woulfe was expected to receive a “dressing down” when he met with the Chief Justice.

However, some senior counsel believe that what has to be addressed when the two men meet is the issue of confidence in Mr Justice Woulfe’s judgment.

Confidence in the judge has been damaged by of his attendance at the Clifden dinner in the midst of a pandemic, but also by his comments as recorded in the transcript of his interview with former chief justice Susan Denham, who was asked to report to the Supreme Court as to whether Mr Justice Woulfe should have attended the so-called Golfgate dinner.

Her answer was no. But she also said it would be unjust and disproportionate to ask the judge to resign, and recommended an informal resolution of the matter.

Further blow

She attached a transcript of her interview with the newly-appointed judge as an appendix to her report. When the appendix was published by the board of the Judicial Council on October 2nd, it dealt a further blow to confidence in Mr Justice Woulfe.

Right or wrong as it may be, the speculation as to why Mr Justice Woulfe has been seeking deferrals has itself become a third contributor to concerns as to his suitability for the court.

If, as is being widely rumoured, some of his colleagues have very strong feelings about the latest appointee to a court of such national consequence, they would be fully able to make this view clear, one barrister said. “Judicial independence cuts both ways.”

The Supreme Court announced on October 1st that the informal resolution process recommended by Ms Justice Denham “will now commence”. But since then the situation has continued to worsen.

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