Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Judge 'was left intimidated by law chief's letter'

A judge has been left feeling intimated by the Lord Chief Justice
A judge has been left feeling intimated by the Lord Chief Justice

A judge who claimed that a competition for a High Court appointment was biased said he was left feeling intimidated after receiving a letter about disciplinary action from the Lord Chief Justice.

Sir Declan Morgan – Northern Ireland's most senior judge – wrote to Desmond Marrinan after he told a Stormont committee that he had been the victim of "flawed and unfair" treatment.

Sir Declan said Mr Marrinan – the county court judge for Antrim – would have faced disciplinary action had he not been unwell.

Last November Mr Marrinan told Stormont's justice committee he had outscored a rival candidate in assessments for a High Court position in 2009 but did not get the job. He said major changes were needed to make the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) "fit for purpose".

Appearing before the same committee yesterday, Sir Declan, who also chairs the commission, rejected the claims.

"I have the utmost respect for (Desmond) but there are some things that he has got wrong," he told MLAs, adding: "One has to be very careful not to be a judge in your own case."

Mr Marrinan's complaints centred on a competition for the appointment of a High Court judge after Lord Brian Kerr was promoted to the Supreme Court.

Mr Marrinan and an unnamed QC specialising in commercial law were the final two candidates.

Mr Marrinan said he received the highest marks following an interview but the process was not completed.

A decision was taken to hold a second interview but the panel was unable to make a final decision. Judge Marrinan had said the process was ultimately abandoned and started again, two years later, in summer 2011.

Sir Declan said the judicial appointment process was "rigorous", and that the public interest of finding the best candidates must outweigh "the private interests" of individuals.

Sir Declan said he told Mr Marrinan that some of his evidence to MLAs had been disrespectful to other senior judges, by making what the Lord Chief Justice branded "risible" suggestions that they lacked the independence to deal with an issue on its merits.

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

Sir Declan said Mr Marrinan had since indicated to him that he did not seek to denigrate anyone, and that he was satisfied by this.

 

FACTFILE

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 Britain, judicial appointments bodies are chaired by lay people but in Northern Ireland it is the head of the judiciary, a deliberate decision by the main parties to remove political interference.

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