Attorney General to have a say in appointing judges

Move comes just weeks after AG called the new judicial appointments Bill a ‘dog’s dinner’

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The attorney general is to be put back on the new commission to appoint judges, in changes made to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. The changes come just weeks after Séamus Woulfe, the current office holder, described the Bill championed by Shane Ross as a “dog’s dinner”.

One of the concerns expressed by Mr Woulfe about the Bill was that Opposition amendments tabled at committee stage of the legislative process took “the attorney out” of the process to appoint judges.

He argued the attorney general, as a link person between the bar and the government, as well as knowing the candidates and the judges, had an important role to play.

A number of Government amendments to the report stage of the Bill will be considered at Cabinet on Tuesday. As well as the attorney general, it is proposed that the presidents of the Circuit and District Courts be put on the commission.

Extra lay member

A further, extra lay member will be added, bringing the membership of the commission up to 17 from the previously planned 13, while retaining a lay majority.

The legislation sets up a new process for appointing judges, with a new body given responsibility for recommending candidates to the government for appointment. Mr Ross, the Minister for Transport, has insisted on a non-legal majority and a non-legal chair for the new body.

Mr Ross and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan met on Monday to discuss the latest changes to the Bill, which has been strongly opposed by the judiciary.

A Cabinet memo echoes Mr Woulfe’s opinion, and said many of the Opposition amendments “radically alter the spirit and substance of the Bill as initiated”.

Onus

The Opposition amendments also placed the onus on the government to explain why it may decide to appoint a judge not recommended by the commission.

With all five court presidents, including the Chief Justice, and the Attorney General now proposed to be members of the commission, Mr Flanagan is said to be of the view that “critical knowledge and expertise will not be lost to the commission in its deliberations”.

The memo states, however, that the addition of new members “runs contrary” to commitments outlined in the Programme for Government to reduce the membership of the body responsible for appointing judges.

It is also proposed that committee stage amendments to rank the recommendations made to government be retained, although such rankings would not be binding on ministers.