A secular ceremony in the Round Hall of the Four Courts for the opening of the new legal year was addressed by Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell and Attorney General Rossa Fanning (2 October).
The Chief Justice stated that such a ceremony “begins a new tradition in a country with no established church”.
Religious ceremonies to mark the opening will continue.
The secular ceremony placed the courts system in the constitutional scheme, the Chief Justice stated.
The separation of powers created by the Irish Constitution was not hermetically sealed, he said, adding that the judicial power held “neither the sword nor the purse”, and relied solely on judgment.
“It depends upon the executive to enforce its decisions. It also depends upon the executive and legislative branches to provide the resources necessary to permit the courts system to function,” he said.
The Chief Justice pointed to an unprecedented level of judicial appointments, following the report of the Judicial Planning Working Group.
Younger lawyers on bench
The scale of appointments had accelerated a trend of bringing younger lawyers onto the bench, he said.
However, five appointments in the High Court and two in the Circuit Court, which were expected in May, had not been made, he added.
The Courts of Justice Act 1924, which established the Supreme Court, High Court, Circuit Court, and a new District Court, would celebrate its centenary next year, the Chief Justice pointed out.
This presented an opportunity to reflect upon and evaluate the achievements of that system, he said, with preparations underway for several projects to mark the anniversary.
A constitution that permitted popular amendment was a “multi-generational project involving a conversation between successive generations,” he stated.
Equality of all
The Irish Constitution held values of enduring importance and relevance – including that justice was administered in courts by judges, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, that Ireland as a republic did not permit titles, and recognised the equality of all, he said.
“That provision is often encountered in courts in challenges to legislation, or sometimes administrative decisions.
“But it is also an injunction to the courts to hold every citizen, and indeed every human person coming before them, equal before the laws – not just those laws made in Ireland, but now also those laws which apply in Ireland by reason of our membership of the European Union.
“These were the ideals expressed in 1937, and they are ideals to which we should commit ourselves each year,” the Chief Justice said.
Ireland’s position as the largest common-law country in Europe had yielded unexpected benefits, the Chief Justice continued.
“It is encouraging to see at first-hand the respect in which the Irish courts system is held,” he said.
“In an increasingly fissiparous world, the administration of justice plays an important role in maintaining the bonds of a society,” he stated.
Checks and balances were fundamentally dependent on an independent courts system, and the judicial protection of rights maintained society on an even keel, he said.
Ireland should not be complacent about the rule of law, the Chief Justice added, because the legal system allowed people to live their lives in peace.
“It provides for a system of resolving disputes by reference to clear rules, and by reason alone, and by ensuring that those decisions once made are enforced,” he concluded.