Judicial appointments bill advances despite transparency fears

Flanagan says providing explanation for those rejected for bench roles ‘legally problematic’

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill has completed the second stage of committee hearing despite concerns the new body for selecting judges may lack transparency.

The commission would replace the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and propose names to the Government for appointment to the judiciary. It is to be made up by a majority of lay-persons rather than legal professionals and will be headed by a chair from outside the legal world.

The commission would have 13 members and a number of 11-member subcommittees which would assess applications for judicial appointments from the lower courts to the Supreme Court.

Speaking at Thursday's Oireachtas Committee on Justice Committee hearing, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan underlined the importance of providing a "reasoned explanation" as to why the Government might reject names proposed by the new commission.


He joined Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire in calling for a commitment to publish a statement in the Irish Oifigiúil gazette if a person not recommended by the commission was appointed to the judiciary.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said they were “trying to ensure that it’s not too easy for the Government to constantly go outside the process”.

“If the Government sees a compelling reason for appointing someone then they are at liberty to do so but it’s reasonable that they’d be required to justify that... I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have an explanation.”

‘Legally problematic’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan argued that requesting the Government to justify its decision to appoint a judge outside the three names supplied by the commission could be "legally problematic".

“I cannot support any amendment that might give the impression to undermine what is a clear constitutional prerogative on the part of the Government in the matter of judicial appointments.”

Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers said it was unclear how drafting a statement in the twice weekly gazette regarding a new appointment “would have any constitutional implications”.

Mr O’Callaghan also called for a commitment to ensure that people who want to have their case heard through the Irish language would have access to a judge who speaks the language.

Deputies called last month for the Minister to consider the make-up of the new commission, warning that forming multiple committees would be “unwieldy”.

Responding to these criticisms on Thursday, Mr Flanagan said his objective was a to build a structure “with a balance between a commission that is not so large to be unworkable or unwieldy while holding fast to the initial design of the bill, in particular the central principles of a lay majority and an independent chair person”.

“We still have much work to do on a number of elements of the Bill in looking at approaches, acknowledging amendments made and how best to approach matters in report stage.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast