Judges not named if censured under proposed Judicial Council Bill
Publication of documents from investigations into judges could result in fine or jail
The Judicial Council Bill 2017 aims to promote excellence in judicial functioning. Photograph: Collins Courts
The identity of judges reprimanded for behaving improperly will be protected under proposed judicial legislation, due to be considered by the Oireachtas in the autumn.
In contrast with many other countries, including in England, Wales and Canada, and unlike in regulated professions here, the public will not know when a judge has been rebuked.
Inquiries into allegations of misconduct made against judges will be held in private, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Any court action related to the investigation will also be held in private.
It will be an offence, attracting a fine of up to €5,000 or a jail-term of up to 12 months, to disclose or publish any document or evidence used in such an inquiry.
Dr Laura Cahillane, lecturer in law at the University of Limerick, has said reprimanded judges should be named in the interests of public accountability. The judiciary was one of the few institutions left in Ireland for which there was effectively no accountability, she said.
‘Aura of respect’
“There is an aura of respect, and that is of course a good thing, but at times we go a bit too far, and judges may think they are untouchable.”
The Judicial Council Bill 2017, introduced in conjunction with the Judicial Appointments Bill – legislation championed by Independent Minister Shane Ross, aims to promote excellence in judicial functioning.
It will put in place, for the first time, a system to deal with complaints about all judges that fall below the level necessary to trigger impeachment.
The judiciary has been calling for a judicial council for at least 20 years and legislation was first drafted in 2001, but has never progressed.
The judicial conduct committee, to be established under the Bill to examine complaints, will issue an annual report on its investigations, but judges’ names will not be published in it, unless they fail to co-operate with the committee or fail to complete a sanction imposed on them.
“It would be better from a public accountability and transparency point of view if names were published,” Dr Cahillane said.
Legislation to deal with misconduct was long overdue, she added, and while the judiciary was in favour of it in principle, judges feel publishing their names would affect their independence.
“A lot of what’s going on is a compromise,” Dr Cahillane said.
“But the current situation is ridiculous and anything is better than nothing.”
Senator Victor Boyhan (Ind) said he did not see the need for holding inquiries in private or for not naming judges.
“Why should they not be open and transparent? Is there a compelling case to say they shouldn’t be?” he asked.