Judges’ misconduct hearings to be held in public

Chief justice issues warning after Government moves to allow public inquiries

‘If judges are taken off the pitch, it could have problems for the practical administration of justice.’ Photograph: Nicolas Nadjar

‘If judges are taken off the pitch, it could have problems for the practical administration of justice.’ Photograph: Nicolas Nadjar

 

Judges facing claims of misconduct will have hearings of complaints made against them held in public, under changes being introduced by the Government.

The Judicial Council Bill of 2017 aimed to put in place, for the first time, a system to deal with all complaints about judges that fall below the level necessary to trigger impeachment.

The Bill initially proposed that such inquiries into judges’ misconduct be held in private unless a public inquiry was needed to “safeguard the administration of justice”.

However, new Government amendments to the Bill flip this position, and say they should be in public unless a private hearing is needed to “safeguard the administration of justice”.

‘Some care’

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said the judiciary had written to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan saying they were not suggesting that the previous position had to be maintained but that “some care” had to be exercised to prevent it becoming difficult for judges to sit on cases.

“If judges are taken off the pitch, it could have problems for the practical administration of justice, so we are suggesting further discussions on the precise basis on which it should be public and private”.

Sinn Féin committed to supporting the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill – which seeks to reform the way judges are appointed, but is stalled in the Seanad – when non-binding sentencing guidelines were included in the Judicial Council Bill. How these will be established are also contained in the new amendments.

Sentencing guidelines

Mr Flanagan said Fine Gael supports sentencing guidelines, but was concerned they should not “violate the constitutional principle of the separation of powers”.

“My proposals for non-binding guidelines will promote sentencing consistency while adhering to constitutional parameters,” he said.

Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said sentencing guidelines have “long been sought by groups representing the victims of crime, and sexual violence organisations such as the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Rape Crisis Network”.