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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Ross backs down and agrees to judges being recruited ahead of new appointments system

Shane Ross's comments have caused fury among judges Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Ross's comments have caused fury among judges Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

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 reallocation of three judges currently dealing with insolvency cases to help plug gaps which have emerged in the Circuit Court.

The decision comes 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.

Until today, Mr Ross had been steadfast in his insistence that no new judges would be appointed until the selection process is reformed.

He has claimed the current process is an outlet for political patronage and fought to get a new system included in the programme for government.

However, concerns were raised about his stance as the legislation required for the new process will not be passed until at least next summer, by which stage there is expected to be a considerable number of vacancies.

Warnings were issued by the Law Society and the Bar Council that backlogs would occur in the courts if vacancies went unfilled.

As well as agreeing to the immediate recruitment of new judges, the Cabinet also agreed today to publish a scheme for its Judicial Appointments Bill in the next ten days.

It also committed to expediting the drafting of the legislation, with a view to having it published in January.

Mr Ross said he only agreed to the appointments after getting assurances on a timeline for the new legislation. “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.

They said the Cabinet remains committed to introducing a new commission to advise the Government on appointments which will have a majority of members from a non-legal background.

This 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 have also voiced concerns over plans to appoint a lay chairperson, insisting that the position should go 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.

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