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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Chief Justice calls for new system for appointing judges

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 30/01/2014 | 17:34

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Chief Justice Susan Denham
Chief Justice Susan Denham

THE Chief Justice has called on the Government to depoliticise Ireland’s “unsatisfactory” judicial appointments process and for the introduction of new laws to ensure judges are appointed “on merit”.

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Mrs Justice Susan Denham has also called for the establishment of an independent Judicial Council to oversee issues such as appointments, pay talks, complaints about judges and judicial education, warning that “great damage” is being caused by the absence of such a body.

In a hard hitting, 97 page document released this evening (THURS) by the the Judicial Appointments Review Committee (JARC) - composed of senior judges - Judge Denham said that as a matter of principle, “political allegiance should have no bearing” on appointments to judicial office.

“It is increasingly clear that the relative success of the administration of justice in Ireland has been achieved in spite of, rather than because of the appointment system,”  said the JARC in a document that has the full support of the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI) which represents 90pc of Ireland’s judges.

Judge Denham and her colleagues on the JARC have produced a preliminary submission on judicial appointments and other matters affecting the bench as part of Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s public consultation on the judicial appointments process.

The JARC, chaired by Judge Denham, has called for a radical overhaul of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB), stating that the system of judicial appointment in Ireland is “demonstrably deficient” and fails to meet international standards of best practice.

The JAAB was set up in 1995 with the aim of depoliticising the judicial appointments process.

But the manner in which the board operates has been subjected to widespread criticism as the Government is not legally obliged to follow its recommendations.

The judiciary has also called on Mr Shatter to convert six “Specialist Judges of teh Circuit Court” appointed last year to deal with insolvency cases into full judges of the Circuit Court.

Earlier today (THURS), the Irish Independent reported that the judges, earning some €140,000 a year, are doing administrative work as only 19 personal insolvency actions have come before the courts.

Judge Denham said that if the former registrars were converted to full judges of the Circuit Court, they would be free to engage in other work.

“Further,  it  would  remove any differentials between those judges and their  colleagues  and  would  not  preclude those or any other judges being  assigned  or  dedicated  to  specialist areas (such as Assisted Decision-Making  or  personal  insolvency)  by  the  President  of the Circuit Court,” she said.

The JARC said that the key to reforming the judicial appointments system rests on reform and development of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

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