“a fragile flower which requires careful tending”

BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport has some interesting observations on the High Court ruling on the challenge to the appointment of four Victims Commissioners by then First and deputy First Ministers. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were not subpoenaed about their un-documented and witness-free meetings, in office, about the eventual appointments. BBC report here. The ruling is not yet online. From the Devenport Diaries

Ms Williamson’s lawyers had argued that the failure of Messrs Paisley and McGuinness to keep a paper trail documenting their decision to switch from appointing just one Victims Commissioner to a team of four called in to question the candour of the evidence provided by the Executive.

However the judge rejected this arguing that “the process of joint decision making which will command public trust and confidence is a fragile flower which requires careful tending”. He said it would be “singularly unhelpful” for the courts to prescribe how the First and Deputy First should secure unity of decision making. The judgment appears to approve of private deals in what would have been described in days gone by (prior to the smoking ban) as “smoke filled rooms”.

Or, in other words, the courts should be a helpful witness.. Adds If Peter Hain’s improper political motivation had been equally exempted from scrutiny would his Interim appointment have been ruled unlawful?Mark Devenport continues

In short, this judgment looks to have cut the legs off any future attempt to judicially review the OFMDFM and to provide a “carte blanche” for meetings without officials and note takers present.

But never fear, if you disagree in the future with an OFMDFM decision, you don’t need to turn to the courts, because our ministers, as Mr Justice Gillen notes “are accountable to the Assembly where they are likely to be questioned and scrutinised”. And we all know just how effective the Assembly has been at carrying out that job in the past.