Monday 18 December 2017

Government has a lack of respect for the judiciary, says top judge

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy Picture: Courtpix
Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy Picture: Courtpix
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The country's most senior criminal courts judge has accused the Government of showing a "lack of respect" for the judiciary.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, of the Central Criminal Court, made the remarks in a speech criticising plans which will weaken the influence the bench will have over the selection of new judges.

His comments come just weeks before a new judicial appointments bill, demanded by Transport Minister Shane Ross, is due to go to Cabinet.

Currently, a board including the heads of the five courts, the Attorney General and representatives of the legal professions advises the Cabinet on candidates.

The majority of the board has a legal background and it is chaired by Chief Justice Susan Denham.

But under reforms an advisory commission will have a lay majority, a lay chairperson and just two judges.

Speaking at a Law Society event last night, Mr Justice McCarthy said the Government, Oireachtas and judiciary had a duty of respect to each other.

The exclusion of the Chief Justice from chairing the proposed commission was "not in accordance with this respect", he said.

"The fact that only one other judge will be a member of the commission and others present on sufferance only on an occasional advisory basis is further evidence of that lack of respect," he said.

During the speech he revealed Ms Justice Denham had such "grave concerns" she took "the exceptional step" of meeting outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny on this issue.

"Her views and those concerns ought to be taken with the utmost seriousness by the Government. There is no sign of that to date," he said.

Mr Justice McCarthy said he believed the plans departed from the spirit of the Constitution and international principals about judicial independence.

The proposals have proved hugely divisive, even within the legal professions.

While they are opposed by senior judges and the Bar Council, they have been backed by the Law Society, which believes they may lead to more solicitors being appointed to the bench.

Mr Ross has been unwavering in his insistence they be implemented, describing the plans as "key, sacred pillars" of the Programme for Government agreed between the Independent Alliance and Fine Gael.

The Transport Minister believes judges, lawyers and other legal figures should have some input in the process, but should not have control. However, he has faced criticism for claiming the judiciary lead a charmed life and that some judges had forgotten their oaths.

He has also upset senior judges by insisting no new appointments be made until the new selection system is in place.

Last November, the president of the Circuit Court, Raymond Groarke, said he was unable to comply with legislation owing to a lack of judges.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan of the High Court said last month a shortage of judges meant important cases were not getting a hearing.

Irish Independent

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