Justice Minister Helen McEntee is to bring proposals to Cabinet to abolish the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) in the wake of controversy over Séamus Woulfe’s appointment.
“I will shortly seek the approval of the Government for a judicial appointments commission bill, providing for the establishment of a new commission to replace the JAAB,” Ms McEntee said.
“I have committed to doing this as quickly as possible. It is important that we have a very clear process, and that people understand it.
“The Programme for Government contains a commitment to reforming the judicial appointments process and I intend to bring forward new legislation to do this very quickly.”
There are currently three vacancies on the national courts – one on the Supreme Court, one on a Circuit Court and one on a District Court.
The vacancies on the Circuit and District Courts will be filled as soon as possible, Ms McEntee said, while it has been the practice to maintain a vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the reduction in waiting times achieved there in recent years.
Ms McEntee said that at a meeting with the Chief Justice last week, he had “restated to me that there was no urgent need for this vacancy to be filled”.
The minister said the lower court vacancies would be filled in the meantime “as with all judicial vacancies”.
A request will be made to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board for a list of suitable candidates for appointment and the names of all those who applied, she said.
“The JAAB recommendations are considered along with any expressions of interest from serving judges and all judges eligible for appointment.
“As Minister for Justice, I then submit a memorandum for Government to the Cabinet agenda, at which point the Cabinet agrees on a nominee for appointment by the President,” she said.
The Programme for Government commits to the establishment of a working group to consider the numbers and types of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years. “Preparatory work is under way within my Department and I anticipate that this group will be established very soon,” Ms McEntee said,
She said she was committed to creating a new commission to replace the JAAB “as quickly as possible”.
She said she adhered to the current process at every stage of the six appointments she had made since becoming minister, which includes that of Séamus Woulfe as a judge of the Supreme Court.
“It needs reform,” she admitted. “There has been a lengthy debate in recent years. It is important that we pass new legislation as quickly as possible, but people must have confidence in this process.”
She noted nonetheless: “Everybody who has been appointed has done their job well.”
Mr Woulfe is not due to sit on the Supreme Court for the first time until February.
The Government is committed to ensuring “adequate resources for the courts to provide access to justice for all citizens and to filling judicial vacancies at the earliest opportunity generally,” Ms McEntee said.