All judges seeking promotion to higher courts and lawyers seeking elevation to the bench will have to complete special training to be eligible for the posts, in a sweeping overhaul of the rules for judicial appointments.
The new requirements will be set out in draft laws due soon from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee as part of an effort to improve how the justice system deals with sexual and domestic violence and economic crime.
“Most importantly, it will ensure victims are supported and criminals punished and given appropriate sentences for their crimes,” the Minister said.
She aims to seek Cabinet approval for the proposed legislation early this month with a view to having it complete passage through the Dáil and Seanad by the summer recess. The measures will be cast as the biggest change to the judicial appointments system for 25 years.
In a significant departure from established practice, sitting judges will have to undertake training and continuous professional development programmes to advance to upper courts.
The legislation will state that a new Judicial Appointments Commission “must have regard” to candidates’ professional development when it makes recommendations for court appointments to the Government.
Such strictures will also be imposed on lawyers seeking to become judges, meaning they will have to train for the bench in order to seek appointment to it. That requirement will change current procedures, introduced only in recent years, in which new judges undertake training after their appointment.
Ms McEntee did not table such measures when the Cabinet gave approval in December 2020 for outline laws to overhaul judicial appointments, a contentious area that has often been at the centre of political controversy.
The original proposal included a requirement for the new commission to consider all applicants for judicial office, including sitting judges. But there was no stipulation at the time on training or continuous professional development.
Sitting judges and candidates for the bench have never previously been required to show they had undertaken specific training to be eligible for promotion or judicial appointment.
However, the new measures reflect the Minister’s view that greater emphasis on judicial training is required.
The move follows consultations between the Minister and Attorney General Paul Gallagher on the drafting of the Bill.
It is in line with efforts to boost training for lawyers and gardaí in sensitive areas such as sexual crime and domestic violence and for dealing with complex issues such as economic crime and corruption.
Judges also have undertaken special courtroom training in recent times, with actors taking part in role-play hearings on sexual crime cases.
Ms McEntee said the draft laws would “further strengthen” judicial independence.
“Ensuring that appropriate training is in place right across the justice sector is hugely important and forms a major element of my reform plans,” she said.
“I believe that making it a requirement that the new Judicial Appointments Commission must have regard to training and development when recommending judicial appointments to Government will be hugely beneficial in improving the skills of our judges.”