State Papers: Concerns over retired judges serving on court

Government agrees to adopt policy to remove retired judges from Special Criminal Court

Concerns were raised in government about the number of retired judges serving on the Special Criminal Court and a decision was taken to "adopt a policy of removing" them, according to State Papers.

In files from the Office of the Taoiseach, a memo dated November 6th, 1985, said the oldest judge on the Special Criminal Court was 76.

It said that the then minister for justice, Michael Noonan, was concerned that there were four retired judges on the court, three from the District Court and one from the High Court, out of nine. There were also offers from three more Special Criminal Court judges to continue serving once they reached retirement.

The Special Criminal Court, a three-judge, non-jury court, was set up under the Offences Against the State Act 1939 to combat terrorism.


The memo said the government had the power to terminate membership of the court and the effect of this on those serving would be a reduction in pay. This “could be used by critics of the court to make propaganda”, as judges could be said not to be independent.

Too old

The memo also said that if a person, by law, was presumed to be too old to continue as a judge, he ought to be presumed to be too old to sit on the Special Criminal Court. “All the more so since that court tries very serious cases and, unlike other courts that try serious cases, it is a non-jury court,” it said.

A minute from a government meeting on November 11th said it had agreed “it was undesirable to retain retired judges on the Special Criminal Court”. Retiring judges should be removed when they reached the age of retirement, and there should be “a policy of removing” those who were retired and still serving.

There are now no retired judges serving on the Special Criminal Court and the retirement age is 70.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist