Judge calls for transparency in filling judicial posts

Two posts to become vacant next year, but selection process is ‘cloaked in opacity’

Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court, and Judge Raymond Groarke, president of the Circuit Court, are due to step down in 2019 as their seven-year terms come to an end. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court, and Judge Raymond Groarke, president of the Circuit Court, are due to step down in 2019 as their seven-year terms come to an end. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Government should “demystify a system cloaked in opacity” and use a transparent process for filling two judicial posts due to become vacant next year, a District Court judge has said.

The presidents of the District Court and Circuit Court, Judge Rosemary Horgan and Judge Raymond Groarke, are due to step down during 2019 as their seven-year terms come to an end.

In a letter to The Irish Times, a senior judge of the District Court in the Dublin area, Judge Anthony Halpin, said the process through which the posts are usually filled is “generally unknown, secretive, guarded and exclusively within the discretion of the Government”.

The judge, who said he has no interest in filling either post now or in the future, called on the Government not to fill the roles by way of the usual “clandestine” process but rather to repeat the process used last year for selecting the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke.

That process involved the establishment of an advisory committee, which advertised the position and considered the applications received before making its recommendations to the Government.

New judges

The appointment of presidents of the various courts is separate to the process of appointing new judges, which is the focus of controversial legislation currently making its way through the Oireachtas.

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, said the matter of the appropriate selection process for the two judicial roles due to become vacant during 2019 will be considered in due course.

These judicial appointments are not even advertised nor tendered to open competition within the judiciary

“It should be noted that proposals for a selection process in relation to court presidents were brought forward by the Government in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.”

Judge Halpin said the way the positions of president have been filled in the past was “flawed” and “offends the precept that justice be administered in public”.

“Incredibly, save to those who are aware, these judicial appointments are not even advertised nor tendered to open competition within the judiciary, nor are they open to other eligible candidates from the legal profession.”

Paradigm of fairness

Judge Halpin said he wished “only to reform and demystify a system cloaked in opacity so as to achieve a selection process which is the paradigm of fairness and transparency”.

The role of president of the District Court is a very demanding job. The court is by far the busiest of the various courts in terms of the number of cases heard, has the most judges, and is involved in very difficult areas of the law including child care and family law.

The Circuit Court, which has 43 judges in addition to the president, is involved with civil, criminal, family law and jury service proceedings.

In a report last week on regulatory reform and corporate crime, the Law Reform Commission said the Circuit Court had shown, by way of recent cases arising from the banking collapse, that it was capable of dealing with complex corporate crime and that such cases should not be moved to the Central Criminal Court.