Reprimanded judges should be named, Opposition argues

Parties object to secrecy elements in proposed legislation on a judicial council

The public is entitled to know the names of judges who are reprimanded for misconduct under proposed legislation, Opposition parties have said. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The public is entitled to know the names of judges who are reprimanded for misconduct under proposed legislation, Opposition parties have said. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

The public is entitled to know the names of judges who are reprimanded for misconduct under proposed legislation, Opposition parties have said.

Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, Social Democrats and the Green Party are united in their opposition to the provisions for anonymity contained in the Judicial Council Bill, 2017.

The proposed legislation aims to put in place, for the first time, a system to deal with all complaints about judges that fall below the level necessary to trigger impeachment.

The Bill proposes that such inquiries into judges’ misconduct be held in private and that judges who are reprimanded should not be named.

However, Opposition parties have said they will table Amendments in the autumn to alter the secrecy elements of the Bill.

The judiciary has been calling for a judicial council for at least 20 years. Legislation on the issue was first drafted in 2001, but has never progressed.

Under the Bill, an inquiry into a judge’s misconduct would take place in private, unless a judicial council committee directed that “to safeguard the administration of justice” it should be held in public.

The committee would decide on sanctioning judges and would publish an annual report. However, the information in the report must not identify judges, unless they failed to co-operate with the committee or with a sanction.

Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman, said that if an inquiry concluded a judge should be reprimanded, the public was entitled to be informed of the judge’s identity.

“A reprimand that remains private and undisclosed to the public, particularly in the context of a function performed by a judge in public, is of limited effect and meaning,” he said.

A spokesman for the Labour Party said the Bill gave the option of holding a public hearing into alleged misconduct, but this was a discretionary power.

The Bill should include a presumption in favour of public hearings in all but exceptional circumstances, he said.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said it was possible, under the proposed system, “ that judges will continue to feel that where transgressions occur, there is no real significant discouragement”.

‘Systematically undermined’

Roderic O’Gorman, Green Party spokesman on justice, said the goal of the legislation was being systematically undermined throughout the Bill.

“How will ‘secret sanctions’ act to improve the public’s confidence in the administration of justice?” he said.

People Before Profit national secretary Kieran Allen said judges should not be above the law, and where a complaint has been upheld, there should be full transparency in naming the judge involved.

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said that, for many other professions, disciplinary hearings are a matter of public record and this is vital for proper accountability.

“Why should judges be singled out for anonymity in this way, particularly given that a fundamental tenet of our legal system is that justice must be seen to be done?” she said.

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said that if the disclosure of the results of judicial conduct inquiries is in accordance with best practice in other jurisdictions, “the question must arise as to why it shouldn’t be possible here also”.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the complaints and investigation regime in the Bill aimed to deal with misconduct at the less serious end of the spectrum and the “various confidentiality provisions” reflected this focus.

He said the Bill had been developed following the report of the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Ethics in 2000, established by then chief justice Liam Hamilton, and was produced “in collaboration with the judiciary”.

“The judiciary has had the opportunity to make observations on its provisions, most notably via the interim Judicial Council,” he said.

A spokesman for the Association of Judges of Ireland said the organisation would not be commenting on the draft legislation.