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Public can make complaint about conduct of a judge from today


Justice Minister Helen McEntee

Justice Minister Helen McEntee

Justice Minister Helen McEntee

Members of the public can now make a complaint about the conduct of a judge, for the first time in the history of the State.

The fallout from Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe’s attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August 2020 highlighted the urgent need for defined rules and a process for dealing with judicial conduct issues.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has today signed off on legislation that fully implements the 2019 Judicial Council Act, concerning judicial conduct and ethics.

The new legislation will allow members of the public to make complaints about the judiciary if it is felt conduct or ethics are of a concern.

Ms McEntee said: “In a democratic society, the judiciary plays a central and independent role in how justice is administered, and our judiciary has provided us with superb service since the foundation of the State a century ago.

“Maintaining and strengthening public confidence in our judiciary, a foundation stone of our democracy, is crucial and I am really pleased to bring into effect all remaining sections of the Judicial Council Act 2019.”

The act will also see the creation and role of a Judicial Conduct Committee and new complaints procedure.

Prior to this legislation there was no method to complain and see a potential instruction or punishment to a member of the judiciary, processed.

The lack of a complaints procedure was highlighted during the ‘Golfgate’ controversy of 2020, when the newly appointed Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Woulfe, attended an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Former chief Justice Susan Denham, asked by the Supreme Court to organise a report on the issue, stated at the time it was her view that Mr Justice Woulfe should not have been at the dinner.

However she also said she felt it was not a resigning ­matter.

Ms McEntee said while some provisions from the act were already in place, due to “operational reasons” the “bulk of the provisions” will be introduced from today.

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It means that a complaint about alleged judicial misconduct can now be made to the registrar of the Judicial Council.

A complaint can made by any person directly affected or who witnessed the alleged judicial misconduct within a time limit of three months.

When a complaint is admissible, it is referred to the Judicial Conduct Committee.

Reprimands may be issued to a judge, and sanctions could include advice or recommendation that the judge concerned pursue a specific course of action, including attending a course or training of a specified type.

Another potential reprimand includes the issuing of an admonishment to the judge.

The committee may also require the judge to report to it with regards to his or her compliance with a requirement specified in a reprimand.

The new legislation also allows for the investigation into alleged judicial misconduct in the absence of a complaint, and for investigation by a panel of inquiry to be established by the Judicial Conduct Committee.

It also sets out the procedures to be followed in the event that a matter relating to the conduct or capacity of a judge requires the referral of the matter to the minister.

The six main pillars the council must follow are to promote “excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions, high standards of conduct among judges, the effective and efficient use of resources made available to judges for the purposes of the exercise of their functions, continuing education of judges, respect for the independence of the judiciary and public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice”.

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