Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe "did not break any law or knowingly breach any guidelines" in attending an Oireachtas Golf Society event in Co Galway in August, the former chief justice Susan Denham has said.
In the conclusions of her report published today, Ms Justice Denham said he did nothing to justify calls for his resignation and said such a step would be "unjust and disproportionate".
Ms Justice Denham said it was her opinion there was no "breach of law committed" by Mr Justice Woulfe and his attendance at the dinner did not breach the separation of powers.
She said he had relied on assurances of the organisers of the dinner that the Covid-19 regulations were complied with and further there was evidence of reliance by the Station House Hotel on the guidelines for reopening hotels and guesthouses, which applied on 19 August 2020.
She said it was her opinion that his attendance at the dinner did not breach the separation of powers, but that he failed to consider in advance of attending the dinner whether his attendance as a Supreme Court judge at a celebratory dinner in a public place in the middle of a pandemic might be an impropriety or might create the appearance of an impropriety to reasonable members of the public.
Ms Justice Denham said in her opinion judicial vigilance to avoid contact that might give rise to a risk of controversy that could impact on the Supreme Court was an important matter.
From that perspective, in her opinion, it would have been better if he had not attended the dinner.
Ms Justice Denham, in answering the question on whether or not he should have attended the golf event without attending the dinner, concluded he should have.
She said he had addressed the golf event in a conversation with the Chief Justice and at that time did not know a dinner had been arranged.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Read the full report here.
As to the second question, whether or not he should have accepted the invitation to dinner, Judge Denham said he should not have.
Ms Justice Denham said while he relied on assurances from the organisers and his own observations on the issue of compliance with the Covid-19 restrictions, he did not consider separately the propriety or appearance of any impropriety for a judge of the Supreme Court to attend a celebratory dinner in a public place during a pandemic.
She said he should have considered whether the community may regard his participation as impropriety.
In relation to the third question, whether in all the circumstances he should have left the hotel, Ms Justice Denham said it did not arise as a consequence of the answer to the second question.
In spite of the views set out, she said there were a number of significant mitigating factors. She said he did not break any law or knowingly breach any guidelines on 19 August.
Mr Justice Woulfe's failure to reflect on whether his attendance might cause controversy or bring the court into disrepute should be seen in light of the fact that he was a newly appointed judge, had not yet sat as a member of the Supreme Court, had not had the benefit of any introductory programme as a judge and there were no judicial guidelines or code of conduct that could have assisted with the situation.
Ms Justice Denham recommended that a code of judicial conduct and judicial ethical guidelines should be introduced as a matter of urgency.
If these had been in place along with an introductory programme for newly appointed judges it was "highly unlikely" the situation would have occurred, she said.
Based on the evidence and the submissions received, she was of the view that Mr Justice Woulfe did nothing involving impropriety to justify calls for his resignation from office.
Such a step would be "unjust and disproportionate", Ms Justice Denham said.
In her opinion, it would be open to the Chief Justice to deal with this matter by way of an informal resolution.
Government guidelines on gatherings of just six people had not come into force when Mr Justice Woulfe attended the dinner, Ms Justice Denham said.
She said while the Government announced new measures on 18 August, no new guidelines making the new measures operational were adopted by the Government, Fáilte Ireland or the Irish Hotels Federation until 4 August and the statutory instrument relation to the new rules was not yet in force.
"Thus on the 19th of August the hotel and dinner organisers believed that the rule remained that 50 people could attend an event. In this case, Mr Justice Woulfe was in a room with less than 50 people," she said.
Having assessed the relevant guidelines and statutory instruments, it was not unreasonable for Mr Justice Woulfe to consider the dinner was Covid-19 compliant, she said.
As part of the review, Mr Justice Woulfe had submitted an engineer's report and a memorandum on the applicable regulations.
It was submitted on behalf of Judge Woulfe that in accordance with the regulation in effect on 19 August, any one gathering of people in a room was limited to 50, but the hotel was entitled to have a number of such gatherings in separate, defying spaces.
It was argued that the two gatherings in the Omey and Kylemore suites of the hotel were in two separate rooms with their own entrance and exit.
It was also submitted that it was not entirely clear whether the removal of the panel for speeches and prize giving was in breach of the guidelines.
However, the evidence of Judge Woulfe was that he was not aware of the removal of the panel in any case.
In a statement this afternoon, the Supreme Court said it noted "the contents of review conducted by Ms Justice Denham including its record of the account of events given by Mr Justice Woulfe.
"The Supreme Court fully accepts the conclusions and recommendations contained in the review.
"The resolution process recommended in the review will now commence."
Additional reporting Vivienne Traynor