Lord Chief Justice warns judges not to accept gifts after pricey presents returned

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has warned judges not to accept expensive gifts. Picture by Hugh Russell
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has warned judges not to accept expensive gifts. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE Lord Chief Justice has warned judges not to accept gifts from other legal professionals after a member of the judiciary returned expensive presents from a bar association.

The Right Honourable Sir Declan Morgan recently wrote to all judges in Northern Ireland reminding them of the code of ethics when accepting gifts after an issue was raised about a member of the judiciary accepting presents from a local bar association.

A Statement of Ethics for the Judiciary in Northern Ireland gives specific guidance about the receiving of gifts by judges and all must agree to abide by the code when promoted to the bench.

The 'Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct' were initiated in 2001 and were endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva in 2003.

They give clear guidance on how members of the judiciary behave, what appointments or events they should attend and also guidance on remuneration for appearances and on the receiving gifts.

The participles warn that "caution should be exercised" by judges when considering "whether to accept any gift or hospitality that may be offered", adding that "judges should be on their guard against any action which could be seen to undermine their impartiality".

"Judges should be wary, therefore, of accepting any gift or hospitality which might appear to relate in some way to their judicial office and might be construed as an attempt to attract judicial goodwill or favour."

There is a register of gifts received by judges held by the LCJ's office, but the list is not available to the public.

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, who is a member of the Stormont justice committee, said in the interest of openness and transparency the register should be publicly available.

"Given the private interests of MLAs and other public servants are open to public scrutiny there is no reason why judges shouldn't be held equally accountable.

"I shall be raising this with the justice committee to see if the issue of gifts and hospitality received by judges cannot be made public in order to ensure the utmost public confidence in the judiciary."

A spokesperson for the LCJ's office confirmed that judges were recently reminded of the need to declare any gifts or hospitality in line with the code of conduct.

"The Statement of Ethics for the Judiciary of Northern Ireland states that caution should be exercised when considering whether to accept any gift but that the acceptance of a gift of modest value as a token of appreciation may be unobjectionable depending on the circumstances.

"Where a gift is of more than modest value, it should therefore not be accepted.

"We do not comment on individual offers of gifts or hospitality."

(This article has been amended from an earlier version.) 

  • Following our report on Monday (October 3) about guidelines to judges over accepting gifts from other legal professionals, the office of the Lord Chief Justice has asked us to point out that the item to which we referred was in fact both recorded and returned at the judge's own volition.  The item had in fact been presented to the judge by a local Bar association at a social event. We acknowledge that, contrary to the impression our article may have given, this was not a gift presented to a judge by an individual barrister and was not "after a trial". We regret any misunderstanding and are happy to set the record straight.