25 June 2020
A personalised attack on a judge by a member of Dáil Eireann, amounts to an attack on our democracy and is something that all of society should be gravely concerned about.
The stability and strength of our democracy is defined by an independent legal system - independent advocates who represent litigants without fear or favour and an autonomous, independent judiciary, who are charged to apply the law, blind to personal preferences or popularity.
This ensures that all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, have the protection of the law and have equal access to justice. It acts as a bulwark against abuse of power and government over-reach. Ireland is recognised internationally for the quality and independence of our judiciary. That must not be taken for granted. In fact, the judiciary and rule of law is sadly under threat in many countries, even those with established democratic traditions.
In every legal case before the courts, there are two sides. It is an inevitability that at least one side will not be entirely pleased with the outcome. It is the role of the judge to apply the rule of law as set down by legislators. Judges do so with complete impartiality and objectivity. We should expect and demand nothing less. For a legislator to personally criticise a member of the judiciary, for doing the job society asks them to do, is dangerous and completely unacceptable.
The coarsening of public discourse on social media is a depressing reality of the world we live in. Using that platform to make populist and personalised attacks on judges – who can not personally defend themselves – debases politics and endangers citizens who look to the courts for protection.
We urge those in positions of political leadership to defend the separation of powers of legislature, executive and judiciary. If gratuitous personalised attacks on judges were to become the norm, this would make it extremely difficult for judges to fulfil their role and would ultimately undermine the proper administration of justice.
Judges don’t have the luxury of deciding cases based on their personal wishes or preferences. To protect us all, they apply the rule of law.
Micheál P O’Higgins
Council of The Bar of Ireland