Sunday 18 March 2018

Ross hits out at 'vitriol' and tells lawyers to 'cool it'

Transport Minister 'surprised' at High Court President opposition

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Tom Burke
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Tom Burke
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Transport Minister Shane Ross has spoken of his "surprise" that the High Court President has come out so firmly against proposed judicial selection reform after Mr Justice Peter Kelly said five years ago that appointments to the Supreme Court were "purely political".

He has also described as an "avalanche of vitriol" opposition to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill from the Four Courts. "They should cool it," he writes.

Mr Justice Kelly recently described the Government's Judicial Appointments Commission Bill as "ill-conceived, ill-advised" and said it was being processed with "undue haste".

In the Sunday Independent today, Mr Ross writes: "Peter Kelly is a good man and a good judge. On past performance he ought to be on our side. Those unfamiliar with his outspokenness might like to know that less than five years ago he caused another stir when he rightly claimed that appointments to the Supreme Court were 'purely political'."

Mr Justice Kelly was appointed President of the High Court in 2015 when he also became an ex officio member of the Supreme Court.

In a 2012 interview with The Parchment, the journal of the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association, during a discussion on whether he would like to be a Supreme Court judge, he said: "It's purely political in any event, the appointments to that court, and I never had any politics." In that interview, he also said the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, designed to take the filling of judicial posts out of the political arena, "doesn't really work".

Mr Ross writes today: "Peter Kelly was on the button. But that was 2012, when there was no hope of reform. Today, there is. Today an end of political favouritism in the appointment of judges beckons."

The Transport Minister, who is championing the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, has described opposition to the proposed legislation from the Association of Judges and the Bar Council as "an avalanche of vitriol" which was "floating across the Liffey from the Four Courts to Leinster House".

This, he says, was "eloquently delivered" by Fianna Fail barrister Jim O'Callaghan in the Dail and former Progressive Democrat leader, barrister Michael McDowell, in the Seanad.

"It has echoes of the row between the elected government and the judges in 2011. On that occasion well-paid judges showed stubborn resistance to a referendum allowing their high level of pay to be reduced," he writes.

On Friday, Mr McDowell described the judicial appointments bill as "misleading, dishonest and unconstitutional" and wondered whether those who supported it were serious about having "top-class lawyers" as judges or whether they were engaging in "some kind of tokenistic dumbing down in pursuit of some elusive form of political correctness".

Today, Mr Ross writes: "Who is afraid of ordinary citizens? Who fears a lay (non-legal) majority on the commission? A significant number of our legal elite does. How on earth, they whisper, could mere citizens elect learned judges? The opponents of such mortals' participation bear the strong whiff of condescension. Statements from the judiciary's apologists imply that they alone have the wisdom to decide who is worthy of sitting alongside themselves on the various benches. They should cool it."

Sunday Independent

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