The Dublin government has started unprecedented impeachment proceedings against Judge Brian Curtin whose trial on charges of downloading child pornography collapsed on a technicality last month.
Judge Curtin’s case collapsed dramatically when it was found that the search warrant on his home, under which the alleged evidence was found, had expired prior to the search.
In response to a request from the government that he explain being charged with possessing child pornography, the Judge said that the government was not the appropriate body to inquire into his behaviour.
The letter was seen in government circles as in invitation to being impeachment proceedings, a previously untested area of the constitution.
Under the 26-County Constitution, the Dublin parliament is solely charged with responsibility for proceeding against any member of the judiciary.
Senior Government figures are involved in continuing legal consultations on their course of action. It is now considering having impeachment hearings, to determine if the judge has engaged in “stated misbehaviour”, heard by a parliamentary committee.
All parties appear set to take part in a committee to hold formal hearings on the alleged downloading of child pornography from the Internet by the judge.
The all-party committee, which is likely to be established next Tuesday, will hear evidence on the matter in private and report on what it has found. This investigation may continue into the autumn.
Mindful of the need to be seen to give the judge due process, the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern insisted yesterday that the government had not yet decided whether to propose an impeachment motion.
He said there would be no place for “party political interests” in the process, indicating that a free vote was likely should a motion to impeach the judge be put before the joint houses of parliament.
The opposition Fine Gael justice spokesman, Mr Jim O’Keeffe, said last night that the parliament was in “a legislative limbo” arising from what he said was the Government’s failure to legislate for how to deal with judicial misconduct and ethics.