Belfast Telegraph

Judge complains of 'biased' process

An independent member of the UK's highest court should be asked to carry out a review after a senior judge lost a "biased" competition for appointment to Northern Ireland's High Court, it has been claimed.

County Court Judge for Antrim Desmond Marrinan, 65, said he failed by one mark to get the job despite being regarded by legal chiefs as an excellent candidate.

He strongly criticised a selection process handled by some of Northern Ireland's most senior judges.

"This competition is so obviously flawed, unfair and biased towards me that it has shown itself to be unfit for purpose," he told a Stormont committee of MLAs.

"It is almost beyond belief to me that a group of people chosen from a respected position in our community could act in this way."

The judge said a member of the Supreme Court should be asked to carry out a review.

Northern Ireland's top judge, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, is head of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission of 13 judges and other professionals.

In April 2009 it was decided to run a competition for the appointment of a High Court judge because Lord Brian Kerr had been elevated to the Supreme Court. Lord Justice Coghlin chaired the selection committee.

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

He said he received the highest marks following an interview but the process was not completed, depriving him of victory.

A decision was taken to hold a second interview but the panel was unable to make a final decision. Judge Marrinan said the process was ultimately abandoned and started again .

He told a meeting of Stormont's Justice Committee today: "They failed to complete the marking, I feel, because they would have had to declare me the winner and they chose not to do that for reasons that were not proper," he claimed.

He said the other candidate was always going to be a mark behind him unless a member of the appointments panel could be persuaded to increase a mark; he was not prepared to do that until after the second interview when he saw elements in the other candidate which allowed him to do so.

The judge said: " It is only when you examine the detail of what actually happened that you can come to a proper and fair or reasonable view as to the fairness or justice of what was done to anyone."

He said the decision by the selection committee to "recommence" the recruitment process deprived him of a competition which he had won fairly.

"They were not prepared to award the competition on the basis of one mark," he said.

"This is irrational and unfair. Usually at the final stage of a competition anyone would expect the difference between two candidates to be a mark or two.

"I did feel that there was no proper reason for them to refuse to give me the competition on the basis of one mark."

An ombudsman upheld Judge Marrinan's perception of unfairness.

The judge said he felt sorry for the other candidate, who has suffered ill health since the event.

"You deserve to be treated with respect, whether you are the Lord Chief Justice or a cleaner, and I was treated with utter disrespect.

"To say of him that he was qualitatively superior to me is clearly not true."

He said he believed the Lord Chief Justice should have nothing to do with the commission.

"The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales has nothing to do with the similar body there - the chairman there must, by law, be a lay person."

He said out of a 15-person committee in England and Wales, five were judges, but in the smaller jurisdiction of Northern Ireland it was six judges out of 13.

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