Dáil hears of judicial ‘Jaabs for the boys’

Minister challenges Opposition to name single case where rulings were influenced

Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe: today challenged Mr Shane Ross to give a “single example of where the method of appointing individuals to the judiciary influenced the decisions they have made”.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe: today challenged Mr Shane Ross to give a “single example of where the method of appointing individuals to the judiciary influenced the decisions they have made”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Fri, Feb 21, 2014, 15:06

The appointment of judges has been regarded as part of the “spoils of war” since the foundation of the State, the Dáil has heard.

Independent TD Shane Ross said such appointments “have been dished out as rewards to those who have been loyal to political parties” during elections. Not all appointments were made on merit and some people who should have been appointed were excluded because of their political colour, he said.

Mr Ross was speaking as he introduced legislation to change the method of appointing judges. He said his Thirty fourth Amendment to the Constitution (Judicial Appointments) Bill “is an attempt to appoint people independently and exclusively on merit if that is possible”.

He said all judges were politically appointed, by the Government. “Fianna Fáil was absolutely ruthless when it was in office for many years, in appointing its own loyal lawyers to all courts, but this Government has been playing catch-up very effectively.”

The current system was established in 1995 “following a political spat between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party” when in coalition, over the appointment of the President of the High Court, he said. He said the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (Jaab) was set up to give the impression that appointments were on merit but it was a “fig leaf” and he said the board had become known as “Jaabs for the boys”.

Replying for Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who is in Greece on EU business, Minister of State Paschal Donohoe said Mr Ross referred to “obvious political interference”. He challenged Mr Ross to give a “single example of where the method of appointing individuals to the judiciary influenced the decisions they have made”.

Mr Donohoe suggested an ‘accident’ had never happened “because we have an independent judiciary which has exercised its powers throughout the history of our State independently of political influence from this or any government”.

Mr Ross said the judiciary did not approve of the selection process where for each vacancy the board puts forward seven nominees for the Minister for Justice to choose from but “the Minister does not have to take a blind bit of notice of Jaab if he does not want to do so”.

He said the advisory board would be replaced by an appointments council or board drawn from a “broad spectrum of society” with no judges or members of the Bar Council or Law Society. It could however include legal academics, ordinary citizens and community groups, he said.

Mr Ross added that an Oireachtas committee would receive the names of those who had applied to be judges and would debate them and could interview the candidates, bypassing the Government entirely. He said the committee would have an Opposition majority.

He said Mr Shatter believed the current appointment system “could benefit from a review” and a consultation process was initiated in December and it was the first “open consultation” to take place since the establishment of Jaab.

He pointed out that the appointments board could only recommend someone when they were satisfied that person had displayed “a degree of competence and a degree of probity appropriate to and consistent with the appointment concerned”.

Mr Donohoe pointed out that the advisory board had complete freedom to establish its own processes and it could interview applicants. “Unfortunately this has not happened to date” he said but the Chief Justice had advised the Minister the board was now considering doing so.

He added that “the manner in which the board fulfils its statutory functions is of course the responsibility of the Chief Justice”.