Judicial reform triggered flood of applicants for jobs on bench
MORE than 6,500 solicitors and barristers have applied to become judges since the creation of an advisory board designed to depoliticise the judicial appointment process 15 years ago.
The massive demand for positions on the bench, revealed for the first time today, comes as the Government undertakes a review of the process for appointing judges.
Earlier this week, the Irish Independent revealed that a third of the country's judges had personal or political connections to political parties before being appointed to the bench.
Already this year, five out of six judges appointed by the Fine Gael/Labour Government were found to have close links to one or other of the coalition partners.
The clamour for appointment to the bench comes as the Government faces an unprecedented opportunity to fill judicial posts, with a record number of vacancies due to come online next year.
Three Supreme Court judges are set to retire next year and up to 10 possible High Court vacancies could arise, due to a combination of retirements and resignations owing to a clampdown on pensions.
In addition, there are three District Court and four Circuit Court vacancies to fill.
It has emerged that almost 4,000 have applied for just 45 vacancies in the District Court between 1996, when the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) became operational, and last year.
And the JAAB received some 2,196 applications for 38 Circuit Court vacancies during that period.
It is understood that many of the applications were repeat applications by lawyers who failed to make it on to a list of seven candidates that the JAAB gives to the Government when a vacancy arises.
The Government is not obliged to accept the recommendations of the board.
Last night, Dara Calleary TD, Fianna Fail justice spokesman, called on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to freeze appointments pending completion of the review and the introduction of new laws to reduce the pay of serving judges as well as new entrants into the ranks of the judiciary.
"The numbers applying to the JAAB reveal the staggering level of interest in getting on to the bench," said Mr Calleary.
"The difficulty is that there are so many with political connections who are still appointed (as judges) and for many who do not have those connections, they must find it a very frustrating process."
Mr Calleary warned that there would be a "rainbow bench" unless the judicial appointment system was reviewed.
Unemployment and falling incomes are fuelling applications to the bench.
Since 2007, 1,211 have applied for just 20 District Court vacancies and 348 have applied for eight Circuit Court vacancies.
Some 114 applied for nine vacancies in the High Court.
Up to 1,350 solicitors are out of work, according to estimates by the solicitors' ruling body the Law Society.
Two new District Court judges, both of whom have strong links to the coalition partners, will make their declarations before the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court.
Earlier this week, two new District Court judges made their declarations before the Supreme Court.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's four-time running mate and former Fine Gael senator, Patrick Durcan and barrister Grainne Malone will earn more than €12,000 a year than District Court judges appointed after new pay laws are introduced. Judges Durcan and Malone, along with former solicitor Michael Coghlan -- who has also been appointed to the District Court -- will earn more than incoming District Court judges as they were appointed after the referendum on judges' pay but before the relevant legislation has been introduced
The country's newest High Court judges, who also have political connections, will be spared a €20,000-a-year pay cut as they were appointed before the referendum on judges pay.