Tuesday 22 January 2019

Minister rejects FF 'compromise' that retired judge lead appointments body

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan Photo: Justin Farrelly
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan Photo: Justin Farrelly
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has rejected Fianna Fáil TD Jim O'Callaghan's "compromise" suggestion that a retired judge should chair the new Judicial Appointments Commission.

Mr O'Callaghan's proposal was the latest twist in a row over the composition of the commission, which the Government plans to give a lay majority and a lay chairperson.

The move will greatly lessen the influence judges and lawyers have over who is appointed to the bench.

It was included in the Programme for Government at the behest of Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross.

Mr O'Callaghan, his party's justice spokesman and a barrister, has been an outspoken critic of the proposed changes.

He has championed the view of the Bar Council and the judiciary that the Chief Justice should chair the board.

The Chief Justice chairs the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, the body which currently advises the Government on the selection of judges.

It had seemed opposition to having a lay chairman was dead in the water after Sinn Féin indicated earlier this year it would support the Government's Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. However, Mr O'Callaghan and Fianna Fáil colleague Jack Chambers surprisingly tabled an amendment proposing the appointment of a retired judge as chairperson.

Observers said such a move would effectively ensure a legal majority on the commission.

The proposal was shot down by Mr Flanagan yesterday during a discussion on proposed amendments at the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

"I will not be agreeing to any amendment which cuts across the basic tenets of the Programme for Partnership Government commitment," said Mr Flanagan.

The minister said he did not see how a retired judge could be considered a lay person.

Mr O'Callaghan clashed with Mr Flanagan, making the point that retired judges were frequently approached to chair commissions of investigation.

He asked Mr Flanagan if he believed it was a good idea to exclude retired judges from membership of the commission.

The minister said his views were "entirely in accordance with the Programme for Government".

He added: "Can I say that I think it is challenging to sustain a position that a member of the judiciary, who for one reason or other steps down from that position, can suddenly be categorised as a non-legal person.

"I think that is a challenge in terms of public perception."

Justice committee member and Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace told the committee he was inclined to agree with Mr Flanagan's view.

He said former judges were still regarded as legal people when they retired.

Irish Independent

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