Judicial appointments board ‘should be abolished’
Recommendations from the Irish Council of Civil Liberties has saidIts recommendations echo es elements of those presentedthe proposals by both the Law Society and Bar Council, which have advocated a reduction in the blurring of a greater separation between the political system and judicial appointments and legal arenas in the appointments of judges . Photograph: Reuters
The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) should be abolished and the Attorney General should have no involvement in the process of selecting judges, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties has said.
In its submission to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, currently undertaking a review of the appointments process, the council has called for a radical overhaul of the system.
“The JAAB’s current selection criteria not only lack preciseness and objectivity but also do not compare favourably with other jurisdictions such as the transparent merit-based criteria of New Zealand or Canada,” the council says in its submission on the matter.
“The need for objectivity throughout the selection process, including the promotion process, as well as merit-based selection criteria, is well recognised internationally.”
In this regard, it recommends the abolition of the JAAB, to be replaced with a “properly constituted expert body” dominated by lay people to establish clear and merit-based criteria for appointments, including an interview process.
This body should also have the authority to make decisions on the promotion of existing judges to other jurisdictions, the appointment of the Chief Justice and of the President of the Courts.
It advises Government to “remove the Attorney General, a political appointee, from the appointments process”.
The council believes that measures should be taken against the potential for political favouritism.
“Due to [the] overt political component to the judicial appointments system, the guarantee of ‘judicial independence’ is not as robust under Irish law as it should be in order to comply with international standards and guidelines,” the submission states.
“The limited role and function of the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board means that final appointments, including with respect to promotion of judges, are determined by government.
“This allows for the over-politicisation of judicial appointments.”
It says that while there exists no indication that the actions of judges are in anyway politically shaped or influenced on appointment, “it is hard to escape the conclusion that the appointments process itself is tainted by political influence”.
Therefore, it continues, the prohibition in law of any lobbying of politicians from potential candidates and a “statutory bar on political affiliation” to form part of a measure of suitability would be welcome.
The council notes a particular lack of statistics in terms of the make-up of the judiciary and calls for a “diversity audit” as diversity in representation can only bolster public confidence in the system.
As an example of what information is available, it says that while 43 per cent of barristers are female, women account for just 30 per cent of the judiciary.