Saturday 16 November 2019

Kenny faces Dail quiz on judicial appointments

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE Taoiseach will face questions in the Dail today about the process for selecting judges after one of the country's most senior judges claimed that appointments to the Supreme Court are "purely political".

High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly 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 head of the Commercial 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 called for an independent body to select judges.

Last night Justice Minister Alan Shatter, whose department is conducting a review of the current appointment procedure, refused to comment on the remarks.

But in a statement, he said that he was sure Mr Justice Kelly, whom he described as an "eminent judge", did not intend to question the independence and integrity of any person appointed to judicial office.

"As the minister has previously pointed out, Ireland is a small country and he would not wish to see people dissuaded from participating in public life, whether as a lawyer or a judge," the statement added.

Mr Justice Kelly's remarks have led to widespread political debate and today Mr Kenny will be questioned about government plans to overhaul the judicial appointment process during Leader's Questions.

Independent TD Shane Ross will ask Mr Kenny if he will commit the Government to introducing a system of appointments to the judiciary that take them out of the political arena.

Mr Ross, who says an independent commission should be established to select and promote judges, said candidates for the bench should then be brought before Oireachtas committees to answer questions about their suitability and qualifications.

"The constant promotion of party loyalists to the bench at all levels has devalued Ireland's judiciary," said Mr Ross.

"Fianna Fail did it shamelessly. Now Fine Gael and Labour are at the same game. Not just at Supreme Court level but in the High, Circuit and District Courts as well."

The prospect of screening judicial nominees has been backed by Fine Gael heavy hitters such as MEP Gay Mitchell, who last night said that judges should be vetted by the Dail for suitability before appointment.

Mr Mitchell said that the current constitutional provisions that specifically provide for the appointment of judges by the President (on the advice of the Government) cannot be by-passed by some "independent body" appointing judges.

But he added that if the current system is not working then a case can be made for reform.

"If it is an issue of transparency why not allow the names of persons being proposed by the Government for appointment by the President to go before a select committee of Dail Eireann for vetting before the government's nominee is sent to the President?" asked Mr Mitchell.

Irish Independent

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