As tributes were paid yesterday (9 March) at his retirement from the High Court, Mr Justice Bernard Barton expressed doubts about whether any savings on insurance premiums would result from the cuts to personal-injury-damages pay-outs.
Giving an address to mark his final day on the High Court bench, where he has sat since 2014, Mr Justice Barton pondered whether the insurance industry was “building a case” against passing on award reductions in the shape of better-value premiums.
He warned against the judiciary being seen to “bend to the will” of the executive branch, in a manner that would undermine its independence.
Lawyers may suffer as a result of the changes, he noted, adding that a strong legal sector is as important as an independent judiciary in safeguarding a healthy democracy.
He pointed out that some sectors would be “delighted” that lawyers might suffer as a result of the changes. However, he encouraged lawyers and judges to work together to ensure that juries continued to hear civil actions for defamation and assault.
Trial-by-jury in such instances would protect the litigant from “caprice” by a particular judge, he said.
As a barrister, he had advised clients to settle rather than face being “hammered” by particular judges, but he never had to say that when a client was going before a jury.
Jury trials might involve “inefficiencies, expense and uncertainties”, but they were central to the public administration of justice, he added.
Yesterday’s farewell event, chaired by High Court President Ms Justice Mary Irvine, heard warm tributes to Mr Justice Barton.
By video, the farewell ceremony heard tributes from the Attorney General Paul Gallagher, Law Society President James Cahill, Bar Council Chair Maura McNally, Courts Service Chief Executive Angela Denning, and Garda Superintendent Ann Markey.
Among the jury cases Mr Justice Barton presided over was the unsuccessful action, alleging defamation, by businessman Denis O’Brien against the Sunday Business Post.