Monday 18 December 2017

Shatter backs off plan to review judges' holidays

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter has backed down on plans to review judges' holidays and their management of court lists after the judiciary raised fears with the Attorney General that their independence was under threat.

In the latest row between the Government and the judiciary, the Irish Independent has learned that an expert group set up to alleviate delays in the courts will not inquire into the highly sensitive issue of judicial management of court business.

Senior ranks of the judiciary were furious at reports that an expert group, led by Senior Counsel Paul McDermott, would investigate issues such as judges' holidays and the length of the legal term as well as management of court lists, viewing the possible review as an attack on their independence.

But they have now been given assurances that the terms of reference of the expert group will not be changed to include matters that could impinge upon their judicial functions.

The judiciary, including Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham -- who recently formed a representative body to "support the third branch of Government" -- will be invited to meet with the expert group, which is due to report to Mr Shatter early next year.

Referendum

The concession has been described as "a significant win" for the judiciary, whose salaries will be cut following the referendum on their pay.

Last night, Mr Shatter insisted that the terms of reference of the McDermott group had not been changed, adding that the senior judiciary would be consulted.

"The minister does not accept the premise of the query that implies he would do anything to threaten the independence of the judiciary," said a spokesman for Mr Shatter.

The McDermott group was tasked to consider how endemic court delays might be alleviated. It was later asked to look at the broader scope of reforms to civil and criminal procedures, prompting fears by the judiciary that their management role would be taken over by the Courts Service.

The calming of judicial fears comes as former Chief Justice Mr Justice Ronan Keane is set to address an international conference on Monday next about Mr Shatter's controversial legal services bill.

Retired Judge Keane will speak on the issue 'Why the Independence of the Legal Profession must be Defended in the Public Interest', at the Convention Centre in Dublin.

Bill Robinson, president of the American Bar Association and Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, will address the sold-out conference, along with Marcella Prunbauer, incoming president of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe.

Irish Independent

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