Monday 24 April 2017

Lawyers who canvass for elevation to judiciary ruled out of the running

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Lawyers seeking to be appointed as judges will be disqualified from consideration if they canvass for elevation to the bench.

The move is to be included in the Government's hotly debated judicial appointments bill, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has revealed.

Canvassing of Government ministers by candidates for the judiciary has been commonplace in the past, but Ms Fitzgerald said it would now be made "unlawful".

The ban will also extend to anyone who lobbies the proposed new 11-person advisory commission which will provide the Cabinet with a list of three candidates per judicial vacancy that arises.

A ban is already in place for lawyers who canvass members of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, which will be replaced by the new commission as part of the reforms.

Ms Fitzgerald said a clause would be required that the judicial appointments legislation be reviewed every five years, a move which will be seen as an attempt to dampen opposition from Fianna Fáil, which is attempting to bring a rival bill.

A key point of difference is the make-up of a committee that will advise the Government on appointments. A bill tabled by Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan favours a majority made up of judges and lawyers, with the Chief Justice of the day automatically being appointed chairperson.

But the Government favours a committee with a lay majority.

While the Chief Justice would sit on the committee, its chairperson would be drawn from the lay representatives.

The Government's plan will also see the number of judges advising on appointments slashed from five to just two.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was progressing with these proposals despite the fact concerns had been expressed to her by senior judges.

"The most serious criticisms are directed at the new commission, in particular its composition and the lay chair," she said.

Mr O'Callaghan, who is a barrister, said the plans to bar the Chief Justice from being chairperson were "consistent with the attitude of disrespect" the Government had shown towards the judiciary.

He questioned if Taoiseach Enda Kenny would ever sit on a Cabinet subcommittee without chairing it.

Mr O'Callaghan said he did not think Ms Fitzgerald believed in the Government's bill and was bringing it under pressure from Transport Minister Shane Ross.

He claimed Ms Fitzgerald had adopted Mr Ross's thinking on a lay majority "hook, line and sinker".

However, Ms Fitzgerald rejected accusations the approach being taken was disrespectful of the judiciary. She also said chief justices in neighbouring countries had no difficulty being part of advisory commissions and not chairing them.

Irish Independent

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