Barristers dismiss ‘rather silly’ solicitors’ claims on law and life

Solicitors say they have a more diverse skills and ‘wider experience’

David Barniville,  chairman of  the  Bar Council: “I think perhaps it was a bit provocative and I don’t think it represents the views of many solicitors either.”    Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

David Barniville, chairman of the Bar Council: “I think perhaps it was a bit provocative and I don’t think it represents the views of many solicitors either.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The representative body for barristers has described as “unfortunate and rather silly” a claim by the Law Society that solicitors have wider experience of “law and life” than barristers. The exchange follows a recent round of judicial appointments in which the Government included just one practising barrister among nine nominees for the High Court.

Two of the posts went to solicitors and six were filled through promotions from the Circuit Court.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, welcomed the selection of two of its members this week and said it went some way to begin “to correct the imbalance” of judicial appointments in the past.

Its director general Ken Murphy said solicitors made up more than 80 per cent of the legal profession but had produced fewer than 8 per cent of appointees to senior judicial posts in the past 12 years. “Solicitors offer a more diverse set of relevant legal skills, together with wider experience of law and of life,” he said, adding: “This is welcome news that is clearly in the public interest.”

On Tuesday the Cabinet named two solicitors, Robert Eager and Donald Binchy, and one barrister, Robert Haughton SC, to fill upcoming vacancies on the High Court. The remaining six openings will be filled by Circuit Court judges.

The chairman of the Bar Council, David Barniville, said yesterday the organisation was disappointed that just one of the nominees was a practising barrister and believed this would discourage barristers from applying for future positions on the bench. “We are also surprised at the unfortunate and rather silly comments made by Ken Murphy,” he added.

“I think perhaps it was a bit provocative and I don’t think it represents the views of many solicitors either . . . There would be a widely held view, reflected back to me, that people are aggrieved at that.”

Mr Barniville said his comments were not intended as criticism of individual nominees, saying the solicitors selected by the Cabinet were highly experienced and qualified lawyers who would make excellent judges.

Judges are appointed by the president on the nomination of Government after the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board identifies potential candidates and informs the Minister for Justice of their suitability for judicial office.

An applicant for the Supreme or High Court benches must be a practising barrister or solicitor with at least 12 years of experience. Solicitors have been eligible for appointment as judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court since the enactment of the Courts and Court Officers Act in 2002.