Judges warned Varadkar Ross’s reforms would not work

June letter claims Minister’s proposals would fail to depoliticise judicial appointments

The letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was signed by former chief justice Susan Denham, as well as the presidents of the Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court and District Courts. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was signed by former chief justice Susan Denham, as well as the presidents of the Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court and District Courts. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The country’s most senior judges told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in an “unprecedented” letter that controversial reforms championed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross would fail in their aim of removing politics from judicial appointments.

The previously unpublished letter, sent at the height of the controversy over Mr Ross’s reforms at the end of June, instead claims the reforms would create further political interference in how judges are chosen.

It is signed by former chief justice Susan Denham, as well as Seán Ryan, Peter Kelly, Raymond Groarke and Rosemary Horgan, the presidents of the Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court and District Courts respectively.

The judges said they would be “failing in our duty” if they did not record their concerns.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he would seek legal advice on whether he could publish the letter but it has been released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill has passed second stage in the Dáil and will be examined by the Oireachtas justice committee in the autumn.

Lay-dominated body

It aims to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and create a new lay-dominated commission, headed by a non-legal chair, which would propose names to the Government for appointment to the judiciary. The Government would retain the final vote in the selection process.

In strong language, the judges say they took the “unprecedented” step of writing to Mr Varadkar because of their “firm belief that it is incumbent on us to state our clear view that the Bill, if enacted, will be harmful to the administration of justice which we serve”.

They further claim the Bill, which many in Fine Gael are uneasy about and which is opposed by Fianna Fáil, would damage the judiciary at every level. It is also claimed the proposals have “not been the product of any independent analysis or report”; “do not accord with international best practice” and “do not follow the precedent or experience of any comparable jurisdiction”.

They also claim the new system of appointments would be an “expensive, cumbersome and unwieldy process which will be prone to dispute and challenge”. Previous concerns were rejected for “political considerations”, it adds.

“More fundamentally it does not achieve the publicly stated objective of removing political influence from the appointment process. Indeed, the appointment process is further politicised.”

It also says the new system would be deprived of the expertise of judges in making appointments.