Supreme Court posts 'purely political', says Kelly
Published 25/09/2012 | 05:00
APPOINTMENTS to the Supreme Court are "purely political", one of the country's most senior judges has claimed.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly, also said the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB), designed to take the filling of judicial posts out of the political arena, "doesn't really work".
The Irish Independent revealed last year that at least a third of the country's judges had personal or political links to political parties before being appointed to the bench.
The JAAB was introduced in 1995 to take politics out of the judicial appointments process, but the Cabinet still picks appointments from a list supplied by the JAAB, whose recommendations the Government may legally ignore.
In a wide-ranging interview with 'The Parchment', the magazine of the Dublin Solicitor's Bar Association (DSBA), Mr Justice Kelly -- head of the Commercial Court -- said there should be an independent body to appoint judges.
The tough-talking judge, who has ruled out ever going to the Supreme Court, also claimed some people who would make excellent judges were "passed over" in favour of others who were not so well qualified.
Mr Justice Kelly, the former 'children's champion' who in October 2000 warned three government ministers they could be held in contempt of court unless they found a suitable secure unit for a troubled teenager, told 'The Parchment' he didn't find the life of a Supreme Court judge in the slightest bit attractive.
"It's purely political in any event, the appointments to that court, and I never had any politics," said Mr Justice Kelly, adding that he accepted an invitation to the bench by the then Attorney General in 1996 when the JAAB first became operational.
"I always thought the ideal age for the bench was 50. I was 46 then, so I was some years short of that. On the other hand, in the absence of political involvement, was I ever going to get the opportunity again?"
A former civil servant, Mr Justice Kelly defended his colleagues from criticism about their pay and pensions and said many judges were experiencing "real suffering" during the recession and some could not afford to take a voluntary pay cut in lieu of the mandatory pension levy imposed on all public sector workers three years ago.
Mr Justice Kelly, head of the new Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), revealed that judges were hugely "demoralised" in the wake of the furore over their exemption from the mandatory pension levy introduced three years ago -- leading to the formation of the AJI.
The initial slow uptake by judges of a voluntary pay cut led to calls for, and the eventual holding of, a referendum to allow judges' pay to be cut.
Previously, judges pay could not be reduced during their term of office, but the poll to cut judges' pay was overwhelmingly passed by the electorate last year.
Mr Justice Kelly (62) defended the role of judges in the pay debacle, saying there was too much emphasis on the 15pc of judges who did not pay a pension levy compared to the 85pc who did.
"To get 85pc of people to do anything on a voluntary basis is not easy," he said. "To get 85pc to sign up when there was real suffering for some was even harder. I feel that very little recognition was given to that (85pc) and too much focus was on the 15pc."
Mr Justice Kelly, who said that he had presided over heart-rending cases and "seen lives ruined as a result of enormous borrowings" said that the 15pc of judges who did not take a voluntary pay cut consisted of some people who wouldn't pay it and some who couldn't pay it.
Last week the Irish Independent revealed several senior judges are among those who lost at least €250,000 each in a massive investment company collapse.
A prominent High Court judge and at least two of his colleagues on the bench are confirmed to have lost money in an investment company which -- unknown to them -- was being run like an elaborate pyramid or Ponzi scheme.
The fallout from the collapse of investment firm Custom House Capital (CHC) is sending shockwaves through Ireland's elite.
Many members of the legal profession invested in property syndicates and are suffering heavy losses on their investments.