High Court president defends Irish judges who took Dubai court jobs – The Irish Times

The Supreme Court President said criticism of the appointment of two senior Irish retired judges to the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) court was “ill-informed” and “a bit unfair”.

The controversy that led to former Chief Justice Frank Clarke and former High Court President Peter Kelly resigning from the DIFC court was “a terrible thing,” the two judges said after their “incredible public service” to the State had befallen, said Mr Justice David Barniville.

Both resigned less than a week after their appointment in late July, in part over concerns, including Labor Party leader Ivana Bacik, over the Dubai government’s poor human rights record.

In a lengthy interview with The Irish Times, the newly appointed President of the High Court addressed the controversy among many other issues.

He “strongly supports” the reversal of legal aid cuts in criminal cases, which are still at 2002 levels, and hopes the government will allow 20 additional judges to sit on the High Court as it seeks to clear backlogs in several court lists remove.

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He also favors more physical and hybrid (combined physical and remote) hearings when the new term begins next month.

In the first public comment by a senior judge here on the DIFC appointments controversy, Mr Justice Barniville said Mr Clarke and Mr Kelly were private individuals who had to retire as judges here when they reached the age of 70.

Their “excellent international reputation” was the reason why they were asked for an appointment to the DIFC court, he said. “Much of the criticism of this dish was ill-informed and, in my opinion, a bit unfair.”

Retired judges sit on international commercial courts around the world, including in the Gulf states, he said. These courts, including the DIFC, have an “excellent reputation” internationally and are members of the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts along with the major international commercial courts, including Ireland, the US and the UK.

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international reputation

Never before had an Irish judge been appointed to either of these courts and it was “a great tribute” to the international reputation of the two retired judges to be appointed to the DIFC court.

A comparison by some critics between the LIV golf tour in Saudi Arabia and the DIFC courses was “completely out of place”.

The DIFC is separate from the national courts in Dubai – which apply Sharia law – and is seen as playing a very important role in promoting and upholding the rule of law in commercial disputes in that jurisdiction, he said.

“I don’t think the comparison was fair, but I can totally understand why both Peter Kelly and Frank Clarke decided not to want to stay on the pitch given the type of public criticism that was being voiced at the time. They didn’t need that effort. I think for people who have served the state so well over the years it was a terrible shame and terrible for them.

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“I’m very happy to say that I think very, very much of them and I don’t think less of them because of that. I can understand why they resigned, but I think a lot of the criticism didn’t really understand what the point was.”

When asked about the human rights concerns, he replied: “You don’t always have to approve of a regime to work in it.” Many Irish companies do business in Dubai and other Gulf countries, he said. There are many government contacts with people in Dubai and it is “an enormously important market for Ireland”.

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