Judicial appointments Bill set to be enacted by incoming coalition
Ross call for lay role may fall by wayside amid family court plan and perjury hard line
The new government intends to introduce a statutory offence of perjury, to make it easier to prosecute those who knowingly give false evidence.
The controversial Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 is to be enacted within the first six months of the proposed new government, but with amendments including making the chief justice the body’s chair.
The commitment in the proposed programme for government appears to bring to an end the effort of the outgoing minister, Shane Ross, to create a judicial appointments commission chaired by someone who was not a judge.
A significant change to how judges are appointed was one of the measures included in the 2016 programme for government at the insistence of the outgoing minister for transport, tourism and sport.
The demand made for significant tensions at times between the judiciary and the Government.
Key demands made by Mr Ross included that the new appointments body would have a majority of “lay” or non-legal members, and that it would not be chaired by the chief justice of the day.
The appointments Bill was the subject of many amendments and was also the focus of filibustering in the Seanad, led by former attorney general Michael McDowell SC.
The decision to have the chief justice act as the ex-officio chair of the proposed new commission meant the emphasis on lay persons sought by Mr Ross was now “out the window,” Mr McDowell told The Irish Times.
Under the Constitution, it is the Government alone that appoints judges. The proposed new commission will review applications for positions and submit lists of proposed and ranked suitable candidates.
Mr McDowell said having senior judges “conduct a beauty parade” before strangers as part of the process for being appointed to senior court positions was “a crazy idea”.
Other areas of reform in the legal system contained in the new programme for government include the creation of a new dedicated family court as well as a planning and environmental law court.
The family law court would seek to promote a less adversarial approach to resolving disputes and the planning court would model itself on the specialist commercial court.
The incoming government will “clarify and strengthen contempt of court sanctions for violations on social media”, according to the programme.
There have been a number of high-profile instances in recent times of people including on occasion high-profile defendants, commenting on trials on social media prior to a jury having reached its verdict.
The new government also intends to introduce a statutory offence of perjury, to make it easier to prosecute those who knowingly give false evidence.
Although it has long been a common law offence, and there have been multiple high-profile instances over the years of apparent breaches of the law, prosecutions, let alone convictions, for perjury have been very rare.
The programme for the incoming government also commits to establishing a working group to consider the number and type of judges that are appointed, so as to ensure the efficient administration of justice.
The Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, has spoken publicly on a number of occasions about the low number of Irish judges per capita, when compared to other developed economies.
The judiciary and the Courts Service have been working over recent times on improving efficiency in the courts system, in the hope that in response government might be inclined to better fund the courts.
The new programme also commits to an independent examination of the “option of a dedicated system of public defenders”.
It also commits to introducing the “necessary legislative reforms of the personal insolvency system” but does not expand on what is meant by this.