Friday 28 July 2017

‘Chief Justice is an insider so can’t be chair’ - Ross

Ross says appointments bill is not radical enough for him

Shane Ross. Photo: Arthur Carron
Shane Ross. Photo: Arthur Carron

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Transport Minister Shane Ross has doubled down on the insistence the Chief Justice cannot chair the new appointments commission for judges, describing the office holder as an "insider".

The minister, who has championed the controversial Judicial Appointments Bill, said it has received pushback from "predictable quarters" but at a larger volume than he expected.

Among those opposing the move to create a new appointments commission, with a lay chairperson and a lay majority, are the country's top judges and Fianna Fáil.

But Mr Ross said the bill was not actually as radical as he had hoped.

"After 30 or 35 years in this House and the other House, I am beginning to learn that the difficulties of getting mild reform through the Houses and away from the bastions of Official Ireland is a much harder project than I had anticipated," he said, adding: "This is not radical enough for me."

A key complaint from those opposing the changes is that the Chief Justice will not chair the new commission. Former Supreme Court judge and president of the Law Reform Commission Catherine McGuinness said this was a "kick in the teeth" for the judiciary.

Among those opposing the move to create a new appointments commission, with a lay chairperson and a lay majority, are the country’s top judges and Fianna Fáil. Photo: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie
Among those opposing the move to create a new appointments commission, with a lay chairperson and a lay majority, are the country’s top judges and Fianna Fáil. Photo: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

But Mr Ross told the Dáil: "The Chief Justice will not be in the chair for a very good reason. The chair is the most powerful position and it should not be an insider who is in the chair, in any position of this sort, in any walk of life.

"It is an institutional decision and not a personal one about anyone. It is to give the lay majority independence and a stamp of credibility and authority to judges when they are appointed. We should not be frightened of this."

However, in the first public sign of disquiet among Fine Gael TDs over the legislation, Dublin-Fingal TD Alan Farrell admitted he is not convinced a lay person should chair the commission as this could damage the authority of the Chief Justice in the public mindset.

"I have concerns regarding the chair of the commission in that the Chief Justice would not be chair. My main issue in that regard is that the Supreme Court is the highest in the land and has the final say in terms of the interpretation of the law in line with the provisions of our Constitution.

Concerns: Alan Farrell. Photo: Tom Burke
Concerns: Alan Farrell. Photo: Tom Burke

Undermining

"I believe we cannot, and should not, implement any legislation that may detract from the importance of the Supreme Court, which is a branch of our democracy, in undermining that role in any practical way or in terms of public perception," he said.

Mr Farrell suggested the bill should not be rushed through before the Dáil's summer recess, as planned by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

"I believe there are very few bills that warrant being pushed through at such a pace. This bill should not be rushed, nor should it be guillotined or passed without a great deal of amendment," he said.

The new legislation's passage through the Oireachtas now looks unlikely to be completed before the Dáil rises in mid-July after the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality refused to give it priority status.

Fianna Fáil member of the committee Jack Chambers said a decision was taken "not to allow the Government to railroad it through the House".

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has confirmed that just one judge has been appointed without being recommended by the existing Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) during the time he has served in government.

However, he refused to say if it was former attorney general Máire Whelan, citing "Cabinet confidentiality".

Irish Independent

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