New judge unlikely until autumn

Cabinet not expected to replace outgoing District Court Judge for several months

Simon Brouder

It appears likely that it will be several months before a new judge is formally appointed to preside over the courts in District 17 which covers Tralee, Killarney, Listowel, Dingle, Kenmare, Cahersiveen and Killorglin.

Last week the Courts Service announced the retirement of Judge James O'Connor who has presided over courts in Kerry since his appointment to the bench  by then Justice Minister John O'Donoghue in 1998.

Judge O'Connor - who has been on sick leave since last January - had been due to retire after he turned 65 in July 2016 but he was appointed to serve an additional year by the Courts Service. That extension expired this month and, it is understood, last week Judge O'Connor's application to  remain on the bench for an additional year was declined by a judicial committee comprised of the Chief Justice, President of the High Court and Attorney General.

Judge O'Connor - a native of Glencar - has the right to appeal the Committee's decision if he so wishes.  It remains unclear if Judge O'Connor will opt to appeal the Judicial Committee's decision. Judge O'Connor's replacement must be nominated by the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and subsequently approved by Cabinet.

With the Dáil's summer recess due to begin on July 12 it would appear highly unlikely any appointment will be made in the coming days. In the mean time - pending a new appointment or the result of any appeal by Judge O'Connor -  the current arrangements will continue in District 17 where Judge David Waters has been presiding over the courts in Judge O'Connor's absence.

While the Courts Service do not have any part in the appointment of judges a source at the agency told The Kerryman that it was unlikely any decision will be made before the autumn. Given that the District Courts only sit for emergency sessions during August - and the fact that Judge Waters is currently in situ as the acting judge in District 17 - the source said they did not think the lack of a formal appointment would cause any great administrative difficulties in the District.