Bar Council warns of threats to judicial autonomy in Ireland and Poland

Paul McGarry says Ross’s Judicial Appointments Bill is problematic for many reasons

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has championed the Judicial Appointments Bill. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has championed the Judicial Appointments Bill. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The chairman of the body representing Irish barristers has linked developments in Poland with Minister for Transport Shane Ross’s sponsored bill on judicial appointments as “a sinister development for Europe. ”

Paul McGarry SC, chairman of the Bar Council, said threats to the “autonomy and independence of the courts and judiciary in Poland and in Ireland” were a sinister development.

He issued the statement as Sinn Féin joined with Fine Gael and others to back the Judicial Appointments Bill which has now made its way through the Dáil and will now be dealt with by the Seanad.

The Bill, which will create a new body for processing suggested judicial appointments, is being fiercely opposed by the judiciary and by Fianna Fáil.

In the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, meanwhile, a case that has been referred there by an Irish High Court judge is considering whether extraditions to Poland under the EU arrest warrant system should continue, following changes to the separation of powers in Poland that have been widely criticised at EU level.

Mr McGarry said judicial independence is a critical tenet of democracy and unwarranted political interference in both countries was proving damaging to the integrity of the profession and ultimately in its ability to uphold the rule of law on behalf of citizens.

“This case, now being considered by the European Court of Justice, has demonstrated the impact that interference in the judiciary in one member State can have,” Mr McGarry said.

“This is not just an internal matter for Poland. It has consequences for all of Europe and the application of European Law.

“Polish populist politicians have criticised the Irish judiciary in an extraordinary series of outbursts and the Polish government has now suggested that the existing Irish judicial appointments system is tainted, submitting that our judges are not independent. This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.”

He said while it was widely recognised and agreed that some reform of judicial appointments in Ireland was required, the Judicial Appointments Bill was problematic for many reasons.

These reasons had already been articulated by legal and political observers, not least the European Commission which has stated that insufficient input from the judiciary on the new body to appoint judges will result in legislation which will not be in line with European standards, he said.

He said the analogy with Poland may not be immediately apparent, but it was worth recalling the changes in Poland did not happen overnight.

“This is why we have consistently opposed the new legislation: any interference with the perception of judicial independence, however small, is unacceptable”.

“The upholding of the Constitutional tripartite separation of powers of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary is fundamental to a functioning justice system. Any threat to this is a most sinister development for individual nations and Europe as a whole,” he said.