11 Aug 2022

Justice Seamus Woulfe sits with judge who subjected him to 'upsetting and traumatic' ordeal

Justice Seamus Woulfe sits with judge who subjected him to 'upsetting and traumatic' ordeal

Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe sat today, Monday, with Mr Justice George Birmingham, one of the judges he has accused of subjecting him to an "upsetting and traumatic" ordeal following the 'golfgate' controversy last year.

Mr Justice Woulfe was sitting for the first time as a judge in the three-judge Court of Appeal alongside Mr Justice Birmingham and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy. It was his first public hearing since Chief Justice Frank Clarke told him last November that, as a result of his attending a golf event that the chief justice felt had breached public guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19, he would not be listed to sit until February 2021.

The three judges were not present in court for the day's hearings but attended via remote video links, as has been the normal procedure since measures were taken last year to reduce the spread of the disease.

In letters published by Mr Justice Clarke last November, a meeting on October 2 between Mr Justice Woulfe, Mr Justice Birmingham and two other senior judges was discussed at length.

It emerged from those letters that Mr Justice Woulfe raised a question as to whether his colleagues may have pre-judged him before he had an opportunity to explain himself, adding: “The content and tone of what was laid out for me by my three colleagues with whom I met on Friday, and indeed their collective demeanour, was unexpected, upsetting and traumatic, and has added very significantly to an already stressful situation.”

Mr Justice Woulfe complained that by the time of the meeting he had developed a serious medical condition brought on by the stress of the fallout from the golfgate controversy. He said he required medical assistance following the meeting and was therefore unable to attend a further meeting with Mr Justice Clarke that had been scheduled for the following day.

In response Mr Justice Clarke said that he noted the "implicit" criticism of his colleagues in the suggestion that they had prejudged him. He added: "I have to suggest to you that your accounts and arguments and contentions have all been ventilated at very great length."

He said the meeting had enabled Mr Justice Woulfe to hear the views of his colleagues and added: "The real burden of your complaint appears to be that your colleagues have been unwilling to share the benign view you take of all the matters involved here."

Outlining the views of his colleagues in the Supreme Court, Mr Justice Clarke said that all members of the court felt that the, "cumulative effect of all of these matters has been to cause a very significant and irreparable damage both to the court and to the relationship within the court, which is essential to the proper functioning of a collegiate court."

In a subsequent letter Mr Justice Woulfe said he was "sorry if any of my colleagues took offence" at the suggestion that they had pre-judged him or that he found his meeting with them to be upsetting and traumatic. He added: "The fact of the matter is, however, that I did find the content and tone of the meeting both upsetting and traumatic. I think I was entitled to communicate that to you, and I do not consider that in doing so, it has given rise to any reason as to why I should resign. What I said to you was true."

The golfgate controversy erupted last year after newspaper reports revealed that more than 80 people, including Mr Justice Woulfe, had attended a golf event and dinner at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, Galway on August 19, after the government issued new guidelines restricting indoor gatherings to six people from three households.

Mr Justice Woulfe defended his attendance, saying he did not know the guidelines had changed and insisting that the event was in keeping with previous guidelines restricting indoor gatherings to 50 people. The dinner, he said, was held in two separate rooms and the room he attended contained 45 people.

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