Irish judges can now ‘authoritatively assert’ their independence

Public respect for rule of law should not be assumed, Chief Justice tells first meeting of Judicial Council told

Mr Justice Clarke: public respect for the judiciary important for maintaining the rule of law

Mr Justice Clarke: public respect for the judiciary important for maintaining the rule of law

 

The Irish judiciary is now in a position to “authoritatively assert judicial independence and respect for the rule of law”, the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, told the first full meeting of the Judicial Council on Friday.

While respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary has been broadly supported, it should not be assumed such a state of affairs will continue unless it is supported, he said.

“We have seen that the rule of law and the independence of judges has come under threat in other jurisdictions,” he told the council, which comprises all the State’s 168 judges.

Last month Mr Justice John MacMenamin of the Supreme Court represented the Association of Judges of Ireland at a silent protest march in Warsaw where judges from a number of European countries marked their opposition to measures introduced by the Polish government that weaken the independence of its judiciary.

In an address to the European Court of Human Rights last week, Mr Justice Clarke referenced the threat to judicial independence from the rise of populism.

The new council, established by an Act signed into law late last year, will have responsibility for guidelines on sentencing, standards of conduct of the judiciary, dealing with complaints about judges, professional education and the making of recommendations in relation to personal injury awards.

The personal injuries issue has already been the subject of some pointed comments to politicians from the judiciary, pointing out the work will proceed without outside interference.

In addressing the meeting in Dublin, Mr Justice Clarke said public respect for the judiciary is important for maintaining the rule of law, and that the council – through education programmes, the enforcement of judicial ethics, and other supports – would promote judicial excellence.

It would also, he said, “allow the judiciary as a whole to speak with a single voice on issues of genuine importance to us”.

The judiciary has been seeking a Judicial Council for two decades. The council will establish committees through which much of the new body’s work will be done. The council will also have a board, and some of the committees will have lay members.

The Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee will be the first committee to be set up and will be chaired by Ms Justice Mary Irvine. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeal, she delivered a number of important judgments that significantly reduced awards granted by the High Court.