Irish judges have gone on 521 foreign working trips since 2010, partly because there is no official judicial training body in Ireland.
According to data provided to The Irish Times by the Committee for Judicial Studies, foreign travel makes up a significant proportion of the workload of many senior judges, with some members of the judiciary making up to 16 trips a year.
One of the reasons for the large amount of foreign travel is the lack of a judicial training institute in Ireland, meaning judges have to travel abroad to take part in education and training conferences in areas such as mediation and family law.
“The Judicial Studies Committee organises judicial training on a part-time basis but is unable to provide the full range of training that is common in other jurisdictions. Therefore attendance at conferences and seminars abroad, particularly in Europe, provides an essential method of training for the Irish Judiciary,” a Courts Service official said.
In 2013 alone judges visited other countries on official business 95 times. In 2016 there were 77 foreign trips, with many relating to the UK’s upcoming exit from the
The judiciary believe such trips are vital for networking with legal systems and as a form of soft diplomacy, given that after Brexit Ireland will be the only remaining common law system left within the EU.
The majority of international travel is undertaken by a small number of senior judges. Mr Justice Paul Gilligan has made 75 trips since 2010, mostly relating to his role on the board of the ENCJ (European Network of Councils for the Judiciary).
Most of the travel is to events in the UK and the EU; the opening ceremony for the new legal year in London is a regular fixture.
But some is to more exotic locations. Last year Mr Justice John Edwards travelled to Mexico for a meeting of the International Association of Judges. In 2014 the now Chief Justice, Frank Clarke went to Japan for an International Bar Association Conference.
Cost of travel
Most of the cost of judicial travel is met by the Courts Service with a small proportion paid for by the organisers of the various events. Judges’ travel has cost the exchequer €404,731 since 2010.
The Courts Service has also hosted dozens of international delegations from other countries in recent years, including from countries with questionable human and legal rights records.
Judges and prosecutors from China have visited on four occasions since 2012 to meet Irish judges “and to discuss matters of mutual interest”.
In 2012 a delegation from Libya visited the Irish courts “to find out about the procedures for different types of trials, for example jury and non-jury trials and about the role of the judge in sentencing and in directing the jury.”
Other visiting delegations included various ambassadors and dignitaries as well as officials from the Suquamish Tribal Court, which serves members of the Native American tribe in Washington. They were interested in the operation and jurisdiction of the Irish Courts “with particular emphasis on childcare”.