Judicial selections all made on merit, says Shatter

Activist lawyers frequently engage with political parties of different persuasions

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter


Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has insisted that every judicial appointment made by the Government has been on merit.

He said activist lawyers, interested in social and political issues and law reform, would frequently engage with political parties of different persuasions.

This was to ensure the areas of law badly in need of reform were highlighted and so that they could contribute to the legislative process.

“That is and should be welcome,’’ said Mr Shatter.

The Minister also said there was a wider public debate on whether judicial appointments should be confined to practising barristers and solicitors.

“In the United States, for example, some of the leading members of the supreme court came from academia,’’ he added. “Is that something we should consider?’’

Mr Shatter also asked if professional bodies such as the Bar Council or the Law Library should be requested to provide professional courses for those who would, at some future date, seek to be appointed to the judiciary. This would provide some form of training in advance of appointments.

Public debate
“These are issues that should be part of the public debate, although I am conscious that there would be differing views on them,’’ he added. The Minister was replying to Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn who referred to his Private Members’ Bill giving more authority to the Judicial Appointments Board. It proposed that the board draw up a shortlist of three candidates and publish the reasons for its selection. The Government would then choose one of the candidates and publish the reasons for its choice.
“That removes any suggestion of impropriety in the selection process,’’ he added. Mr Mac Lochlainn said the Minister would have heard suggestions through the years that people were only appointed to the judiciary because they had previously worked for Labour, Fianna Fáil or the PDs.

“It is deeply unfortunate that somebody who commences an independent judicial career has a question mark over his or her appointment from the outset,’’ he added.

Mr Shatter said that while he would be in favour of some additional transparency, he had concerns about what was being proposed. “Let us assume, for example, there is one person to be appointed to the judiciary and three names are publicly given and background information about the candidates was also publicly given,’’ Mr Shatter added.

“It would be fine for the person who was appointed but it could be a considerable embarrassment for the two who were not.’’ He said that if, six months later, one of the two candidates was appointed, there could be a suggestion they were not good enough to be appointed previously.