174 lawyers applied for one judicial vacancy on the District Court last year
Report shows 17 new judges were appointed in 2012
Mrs Justice Susan Denham: chairs the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board
Applications were received from 174 lawyers to fill a single vacancy on the District Court bench last year. The annual report of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) shows it received 174 applications to fill the District Court vacancy created by the elevation of Judge David Riordan to the Circuit Court in April 2012.
When the board met a month earlier to consider applications for seven other vacancies on the District Court, it also had 174 applications. They comprised 35 junior counsel, of whom 12 were women and 139 solicitors, including 53 women.
The JAAB receives applications for judicial posts and sends the Government a list of candidates who meet a set of general minimum criteria. The board does not rank individuals by merit and the Government is not obliged to choose from its list, which means the system of appointments leaves wide discretion to politicians.
Seventeen judges were appointed by the President last year on the nomination of the Government following recommendations made by the JAAB, including three to the High Court, six to the Circuit Court and eight to the District Court.
When the board advertised three High Court positions in March last year to fill the roles left vacant by the retirement of Mr Justice John Quirke and the elevation of Mr Justice Frank Clarke and Mr Justice John MacMenamin to the Supreme Court, it received applications from 15 senior counsel (including six women) and four male solicitors.
The Government later appointed three senior counsel – Paul McDermott, Iseult O’Malley and Colm Mac Eochaidh – to fill these vacancies.
Mr Justice Clarke and Mr Justice MacMenamin did not apply to the JAAB to join the Supreme Court as the process does not apply where sitting judges are promoted to a different court.
The board received 149 applications for seven vacancies on the Circuit Court last year. They came from 17 senior counsel, including eight women; 59 junior counsel, of whom 22 were women, and 73 solicitors, including 26 women.
Six people were ultimately appointed following recommendations from the JAAB: Barry Hickson SC, Mary Ellen Ring and Carmel Stewart, Sarah Berkeley and Pauline Codd, and solicitor Keenan Johnson. The Government filled the seventh vacancy by promoting Judge David Riordan from the District Court.
The report reveals that the JAAB has never used its power to interview applicants. It argues that there are “serious practical obstacles” to conducting such a process routinely and that generally the board has sufficient information from the documents submitted by applicants.
“This is in the context that the board does not have any function in deciding whom should be appointed to judicial office,” it states. “Moreover, the board in submitting the names of persons whom it considers suitable for appointment does not make a decision or give an indication with regard to the relative merits of persons so submitted.”
In its report, the JAAB referred to concerns it raised in 2002 about the absence of any procedure for ensuring that a person who is recommended by them and who is subsequently appointed, undergoes a medical examination.
The JAAB is chaired by Chief Justice Ms Justice Susan Denham and includes the presidents of each court, the attorney general, the chairman of the Bar Council, a representative of the Law Society and three people nominated by the Minister for Justice.