THE government faces the prospect of paying Judge Brian Curtin a financial package worth ?4m to get him to resign from the bench, following the sensational collapse of his trial for possessing child pornography due to an illegal search because of an out-of-date warrant.

The options facing the government are to allow the judge to resume his duties, to pay him a generous financial package to resign or to impeach him.

Allowing the judge back on the bench is dismissed by government sources as not being an option, while impeachment procedures pose enormous difficulties on legal and constitutional grounds.

The simplest option is an indexed pension for life with a computed value of ?4m over the course of his lifetime for the 52-year-old judge who only served for six months on the bench. Such a generous package would be highly controversial in the light of the charges involved.

The government will consider the issue at Tuesday's cabinet meeting, but a decision on the course of action to be taken may be postponed.

The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, and the Attorney General, Rory Brady, are consulting this weekend on the various options for dealing with the unique problem thrown up by the case.

Curtin, who lives in Tralee, was appointed a judge by the government in November 2001 and was barely six months on the bench when his house was raided as part of Operation Amethyst in May 2002. He was asked to step down from active duty and has been on full pay ever since.

The collapse of the case, because a search warrant was deemed to be out of date means that he is an innocent man in the eyes of the law and in theory he should be able to resume his duties.

As that is clearly not acceptable to the authorities, there was some speculation in the immediate aftermath of the collapsed trial that the government might move to have him impeached. However, this is an option the government would be very reluctant to take.

No judge has been impeached in the history of the state, despite various problems involving individual judges that have arisen from time to time. The constitution is designed to protect the independence of the judiciary, and judges can only be impeached for stated misbehaviour or incapacity by a resolution passed by the Dáil and the Seanad.

Framing a resolution to impeach Judge Curtin for stated misbehaviour would pose enormous difficulties.

There are no grounds for stating misbehaviour in connection with the carrying out of his judicial functions, and the reservations about his continuing on the bench relate to issues on which he was found not guilty by a court.

The only option appears to be to pay the judge his full salary of over ?130,000 a year to stay at home until he reaches retirement age and his lump sum and index-linked payment after that, or to make a pension settlement with him at this stage.