Ross in U-turn as Cabinet set to appoint new judges
Transport Minister Shane Ross has backed down in the row over judicial appointments, with the Cabinet agreeing to recruit four new judges to fill vacancies in the District Court.
There is also set to be a re-allocation of three judges currently dealing with insolvency cases to help plug gaps that have emerged in the Circuit Court.
The move came as a surprise as Mr Ross had been steadfast in vetoing the appointment of any new judges until the selection process is reformed.
He insisted that a round of appointments agreed during the summer were the last ones under the current system and that there was "no clog-up" in the courts at present.
However, the minister performed a U-turn yesterday, just days after the president of the Circuit Court, Judge Raymond Groarke, said he could not uphold the law as he did not have enough judges.
A lack of available judges meant an application for an interim injunction in a case involving a protected disclosure could not be dealt with, even though legislation prohibits the postponement of such proceedings.
Now the process will begin to recruit four new District Court judges, to fill two current vacancies and two which will arise in the near future.
Three specialist judges dealing with insolvency issues, and considered to be underutilised at present, will become general judges of the Circuit Court.
In a statement, Mr Ross said he agreed to the move after assurances on a timeline for new judicial appointments laws. "On the basis that I received an absolute timeline on the forthcoming Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, I agreed that this re-assignment should proceed and that the District Court appointments be made," he said.
The Cabinet agreed to publish a scheme for the bill in the next 10 days. It also committed to expediting the drafting of the legislation, with a view to having it published in January.
Sources said the Cabinet remained committed to introducing a new commission to advise the Government on appointments and that it would have a majority of members from a non-legal background.
Mr Ross has claimed the current selection process is an outlet for political patronage and has also railed against judges "controlling" appointments.
The proposed system has raised concerns among senior judges, who wrote to Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald expressing a preference for a commission with a majority made up of judges and legal professionals.
The judges also voiced concerns over plans to appoint a lay chairperson, instead of giving the position to the Chief Justice.
"The commitments in the programme for government remain and a decision was taken that the process of putting these in place needs to be speeded up," said an informed source.
It is also thought the acceleration of the process is a move to "head off" a private members bill on judicial appointments by Fianna Fáil.