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Court-martial system 'paralysed' without new judge

A backlog of 23 court-martial cases has built up as the Defence Forces and the Minister for Defence have said the system is in "a state of paralysis" as a result.

The Army has not yet been able to fill the post of military judge since the retirement of the previous judge six months ago. It is believed that it was proposed to appoint a senior army officer to the post, but it was discovered that under the provisions of the Defence Amendment Act 2007 the officer, although a barrister might not have been fully qualified for the job.

The Minister for Defence Alan Shatter then rushed a Bill through the Seanad to amend the act.

Mr Shatter blamed the "obscure wording" of the previous Act, and insisted that the legislation was "not to address the position of any individual".

He said that its aim was to clear up any misunderstanding in the terms of the job -- which specifies that the military judge must have been involved in court-martial proceedings in the previous 10 years.

It is also believed that despite the obstacle being cleared up the Defence Forces have not been able to agree terms for the appointment of the new military judge.

The Department of Defence confirmed yesterday: "No one has been appointed to the vacant position of military judge."

This is despite the fact that the Minister for Defence said in July that it was "urgent" to introduce the new legislation to "redefine eligibility" for the post of military judge.

Mr Shatter also told the Seanad at the time that it was "essential that competition exists for any appointment" for the post of military judge.

The Department of Defence confirmed yesterday that there are 23 court-martial cases awaiting hearing.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent in response to a number of questions about the delay in appointing the military judge the Department of Defence also stated:

"In relation to the salary of a military judge, this is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Defence Act 1954 to 2011 with the approval of the Minister for Finance. This process of finalising terms and conditions for the appointment is ongoing in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform."

The department was not able to say when the position will be filled.

The new judge will be based in the Military Justice Centre in McKee Barracks in Dublin which was opened in July 2009 and boasts a modern courtroom with digital recording system, consultation rooms and administrative and office facilities.

Sunday Independent