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Judge warned over comments

Published 05/06/2014

Michael McHugh




THE Lord Chief Justice has written to a senior judge telling him he would have faced disciplinary action if he had not been ill.

Sir Declan Morgan said a judge who claimed he was the victim of flawed, unfair and biased treatment during a bid for promotion was wrong. He emphasised his respect for county court judge Desmond Marrinan during questioning at Stormont's justice committee.

But Sir Declan said: "I do think that you need to be very careful not to be a judge in your own case."

Judge Marrinan has told MLAs he had outscored a rival candidate in assessments in 2009 but did not get the p r o m o t i o n to Northern Ireland's high Court. He said significant changes were needed to make the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) fit for purpose.

Sir Declan, left, chairs NIJAC. He told the committee the merit criterion was weighted appropriately and assessed through selection tools such as an interview, case study or role play.

Sir Declan confirmed he had written to Judge Marrinan to tell him some of his evidence had been dis-respectful to other senior judges, by making what the lord chief justice described as the "risible" suggestion that they lacked the independence to deal with an issue on its merits.

Sir Declan said he had not threatened Judge Marrinan with disciplinary action but had told him, in the light of the fact the judge had been ill, he did not think it appropriate to take the matter any further.

NIJAC is responsible for recruitment to more than 650 judicial offices. Since it was established in June 2005 around 60 separate competitions have been run.

Apart from three complaints by Judge Marrinan, there has only been one other complaint to the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman and that was not upheld.

In Scotland, England and Wales the judicial appointments bodies are chaired by lay people but Northern Ireland's nomination of the head of the judiciary, a deliberate decision by the main political parties, was designed to remove political interference. He commented: "This self-denying ordinance by our local parties recognises we are a society emerging from conflict."