Irish Bar will vote in secret on Whelehan's readmission

HARRY Whelehan, the former Republic of Ireland Attorney General who resigned as Irish High Court president only a week after being appointed, has still not been readmitted to practise as a barrister despite the full backing of his profession.

The Irish Bar Council, at Whelehan's request, called a special meeting to amend its code of conduct, which prohibits a retired judge from acting as a barrister in any court on which he or she sat, or any lower court.

It was felt the rule should be altered because of the exceptional circumstances of the case.

The meeting was attended by 400 barristers who were told by Bar Council chair Frank Clarke that Whelehan had resigned as High Court president six days after his appointment, having dealt with only two cases.

“We are not judging whether Harry Whelehan did everything right or wrong. This is not a referendum on him,” said Clarke.

“The issue is whether someone should be stopped from practising, when as a judge he sat for only two days.

“The question is whether the rule is intended to stop someone earning a living in the profession for the rest of his life,” he said.

The barristers then voted by 352 to nil, with 37 abstentions, to amend the rule. But before Whelehan's readmission as a practising barrister could be confirmed, one member invoked the Bar Council's constitutional provision to hold a secret ballot on the issue.

She was supported by the 50 members needed to force a ballot. Now all 928 practising barristers in the Republic are to decide Whelehan's fate, probably before Christmas. A simple majority is all that is required. Clarke told the meeting: “I would have preferred if the matter had been resolved straight away. However, we have a democratic constitution and it's not for me to tell members they are wrong.”