Monday 18 December 2017

Fresh rift as Ross claims judge 'over' political line

High Court President lashes minister's reform

Minister for Transport Shane Ross. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Minister for Transport Shane Ross. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The burgeoning rift between the Government and judiciary escalated last night as transport minister Shane Ross said the President of the High Court "entered the political arena" by attacking his Judicial Appointments Bill.

Mr Ross's comments followed Mr Justice Peter Kelly describing the minister's reform of judicial appointments as "ill advised" and "ill conceived" at a Bar Association event last Friday evening.

The prominent High Court judge said the Government was pushing through legislation with "undue haste" compared to other laws which he believed should be prioritised.

Mr Justice Kelly's attack comes as the Dail this week prepares to debate the bill which is aimed at bringing an end to political patronage in the appointment of members of the judiciary.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Ross said he was "sorry" Mr Justice Kelly "entered the political arena" with his comments on the bill.

"I have huge respect for Peter Kelly as a judge, but he is mistaken in his belief that the bill is being rushed," the Independent Alliance minister said.

Minister Ross said his reforms of judicial appointments have been "several years in preparation". He said "all judges are currently politically appointed" and insisted his bill would "finally end this rotten system".

"The removal of the scourge of political patronage from the choice of judges cannot come a day too early," he added.

Mr Justice Kelly, who is widely experienced and highly regarded, would have some support in challenging Mr Ross's proposals.

The bill creates a body for appointing judges which will have a majority of non-legal members and the chair will also not have a legal background. The Government has committed to passing the legislation before the summer recess. Fianna Fail refused to support the legislation but Mr Ross hopes to pass it with the support of Sinn Fein and a number of Independent TDs.

Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Jim O'Callghan urged the Government to "listen carefully" to Mr Justice Kelly's comments, rather than "rushing through bad legislation to appease" Minister Ross.

The row between Mr Ross and Mr Justice Kelly comes at a time of heightened tensions between the judiciary and politicians.

The controversy surrounding the appointment of former Attorney-General Maire Whelan to the Court of Appeal last week led to criticisms of political leaders from the country's most senior judge,

Chief Justice Susan Denham. In a speech, Ms Justice Denham reminded politicians of the separation of powers between the judiciary and government.

"The separation of powers in the State means that each great organ of State has its own specific powers," she said. "It is a system of checks and balances and inevitably the courts make decisions on the actions of other branches of government."

Her comments followed a clash between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin over Ms Whelan's appointment. Mr Martin suggested the former Attorney-General would not be the same standard of judge as some of her predecessors.

Sunday Independent

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