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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Oct 1999

Vol. 509 No. 1

Priority Questions. - Listing of Court Case.

Jim Higgins


56 Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action, if any, he will take in view of the findings contained in the reports he has received into the conduct of a case (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19708/99]

The Deputy will be aware that on 5 May 1999 I initiated inquiries in relation to the listing of a court case which was heard in Castlerea District Court on 15 January this year. I am informed that the case is currently the subject of judicial review proceedings. In the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to com ment on the matter at this juncture. It remains my intention to report back to the House on this matter as soon as I am in a position to do so.

(Mayo): Will the Minister confirm that the report commissioned by him from Chief Superintendent John Carey shows, in the clearest possible terms and on the basis of his examination of court records and his interviews with the key principals involved, that the judge was wrong in calling and hearing the case a full month in advance of its scheduled date? In relation to the judicial decision and the judicial review being sought, is it the intention that a High Court order should be sought to quash Judge Brennan's decision on the basis that he varied the court order of December 1998?

I will not prejudge this matter; it is too serious for that. I would not do it even if it were a trivial matter in relation to any case. Investigations were instigated by me on receipt of the question put down by Deputy Higgins, in other words, when the matter was brought to my attention. An official of my Department who has been investigating this matter at my request has completed the inquiries which he considers appropriate. I understand the same is true of the Garda inquiries.

It would be entirely inappropriate for either the official concerned or the Garda authorities to draw final conclusions or to make a final report in circumstances where the matters they have been examining may fall to be considered and adjudicated on by a court of law. I understand the President of the District Court has suspended his investigation pending the outcome of the judicial review proceedings. The clearly correct path is for the judicial review proceedings to be determined by the courts and, when the position is clear, decide whether action is warranted. There are no circumstances under which I could possibly prejudge an issue such as this and I will not do so. It would be wrong.

Acting Chairman

Before Deputy Higgins responds, it should be pointed out that members of the Judiciary are independent under the Constitution and may neither be criticised nor have their rulings referred to in the House except by way of substantive motion. I ask Deputy Higgins to adhere to this ruling.

There have been many debates on court cases this year. One debate resulted in the resignation of two judges.

(Mayo): I am not asking the Minister to breach confidence. I am simply asking him to outline the State's position on this. Is it not a fact that the State has decided that the basis of its judicial review should be as follows: that the judge acted beyond his jurisdiction and contrary to natural justice in relisting or procuring the relisting of the case, that it is being argued that the judge in question erred in failing to give adequate notice to the Director of Public Prosecutions or to allow the Garda inspector to address the court—

Acting Chairman

The Deputy cannot criticise the judges in the House.

(Mayo): I am not. I am asking the Minister to state the basis on which the judicial review is being sought. In other words, the case was effectively listed a month in advance of the scheduled hearing thereby giving the State no opportunity to address the fundamental matters before it in court.

Our legal system, like all common law jurisdictions, is balanced. It consists of checks and balances, hearings and appeals. One of the most fundamental procedures of our law is that of judicial review. This process involves a High Court judge reviewing the action of a district justice. In discussing the position in this case it must be borne in mind that the High Court will decide whether the judge in question acted in accordance with the law and the principles of natural justice. While that review is pending, the matter is clearly sub judice and any comment which might be prejudicial or indicate a judgment having being reached prior to the matter being heard by the court could not but adversely affect the matter. In those circumstances, it must be appreciated that it would be inappropriate for me or anyone else to prejudge the matter. Suffice to say that when the judicial review proceedings have been completed and the report finalised, I will report the matter to the House.

Acting Chairman

That concludes the time for Priority Questions. Question No. 57 in the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin.