Shatter calls for debate on judicial appointments

Minister for Justice says there is scope for a ‘more transparent and accountable’ system

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told the Law Society that the current system of appointing judges ‘is very much of its time and we could do better’.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told the Law Society that the current system of appointing judges ‘is very much of its time and we could do better’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Sat, May 11, 2013, 14:20

Ciara Kenny

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has called for public debate on the way judicial appointments are made.

In an address to the Law Society annual conference in Killarney this morning, Mr Shatter said the current system of appointing judges “is very much of its time and we could do better”.

“There is certainly scope for a much more transparent and accountable system which could promote more diversity in our judiciary and serve to uphold the very high opinion in which the Irish people hold the judiciary,” he said.

Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke last month called for an overarching body to handle all interaction between the political sphere and the judiciary.

He proposed a form of judicial commission, to include representatives from politics, the law and civil society, which could take responsibility for judicial appointments, their conditions of employment and discipline.

Mr Shatter said he believed Government should retain accountability for judicial appointments, but that “a better architecture can be put in place than exists at present”.

“I hope the discussion I am suggesting involves not only the legal profession and contributions from members of the judiciary but also engages the broader public,” he added.

The discussion could consider whether legal academics could be eligible to become judges, as is the case in the US, the minister told delegates.

He also questioned the “appropriateness in this day and age” of the courts taking holidays for two months during the summer as well as a spring vacation which interrupts court sittings for eight days after Easter.

“As these vacation arrangements have existed since at least the 19th century, my reference to them should not be seen in any way as a criticism of our judiciary but I do believe it is legitimate to ask questions in today’s world,” he said.

He added that as Minister for Justice he had an obligation to ensure the courts system was efficient and cost effective, which should not be misinterpreted as a threat to the independence of the judiciary.

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