Tuesday 20 February 2018

Judges' wish to control judicial appointments is 'wrong' - Ross

Chief Justice Susan Denham Picture: Damien Eagers
Chief Justice Susan Denham Picture: Damien Eagers
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Transport Minister Shane Ross has claimed judges want the proposed new system for judicial appointments to be controlled by members of the bench and people from a legal background.

The Independent Alliance TD said it would be "wrong" for this to happen and that the Government intends to press ahead with plans for a judicial appointments committee with an independent chairperson and a lay majority.

He also claimed the judiciary was "unaccountable" and "living a charmed life".

Mr Ross's remarks came just days after he and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald met a three-judge delegation to discuss the planned reforms.

Subsequent to that meeting, the Chief Justice, Susan Denham, gave a speech in which she rejected claims the judiciary was "fighting change".

In an apparent slapdown of Mr Ross, she told the National Judges' Conference at the weekend that the judiciary had been seeking reforms of the system for years.

Responding to her remarks yesterday, Mr Ross accepted that the judiciary wanted change, but he claimed they wanted it on their own terms.

"The detail of this has been talked about to the judiciary and the judiciary wish to change the appointment being in the hands of politicians to being a majority in the hands of lawyers, legal people and judges. That is a difficulty because I see that as wrong," he said in an interview with RTÉ Radio.

Mr Ross said he wanted judges to have an input into the selection process, but "they shouldn't control it".

The current 12-member Judicial Appointments Advisory Board is chaired by the Chief Justice, and includes four other senior judges, the Attorney General, and nominees from the Bar Council and the Law Society.

The Programme for Government agreed between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance would see this board slimmed down and given a lay majority.

It would also be limited to providing the Cabinet with three recommendations per judicial vacancy, rather than the minimum of seven currently required.

Mr Ross believes this will limit the discretion of the Cabinet and lessen the opportunity for politically motivated appointments.

Sources familiar with the views of senior judges confirmed there were reservations about the proposed make-up of the committee.

In particular, they wish to see the retention of a majority of members with a legal background.

They said this was a feature of advisory committees in other common law countries and ensured candidates were assessed by people with significant experience of the legal system.

They also want to retain the appointment of the Chief Justice as chairperson.

It is understood the judges believe concerns about fairness or impartiality could be addressed by requiring that the commission endeavour to make decisions by consensus and if a vote is needed, that a two-thirds majority be required.

Analysis: Ross got agreement on radical reforms of judicial appointments, but has now gone back for more

They believe subcommittees carrying out interviews could be chaired by a lay chairperson.

In the interview, Mr Ross reiterated his belief that judges should be required to provide a register of interests.

However, it appears unlikely this will be included in forthcoming judicial appointments legislation. It is more likely to be addressed by a separate bill allowing for the setting-up of a judicial council, which would set ethical guidelines for judges and investigate complaints.

Mr Ross also rejected fears, most recently articulated by Law Society president Stuart Gilhooly, that the failure to fill existing vacancies in advance of the new appointments system being introduced would cause significant backlogs in the courts.

Irish Independent

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