Judicial complaints regime expected to ‘go live’ in first half of next year

Introduction of system seen as key to increasing, and maintaining, public confidence

A regime for dealing with complaints against the judiciary is expected to ‘go live’ some time in the first half of next year, the former Chief Justice Frank Clarke has said. Photograph: Alan Betson

A regime for dealing with complaints against the judiciary is expected to ‘go live’ some time in the first half of next year, the former Chief Justice Frank Clarke has said. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A regime for dealing with complaints against the judiciary is expected to “go live” some time in the first half of next year, the former Chief Justice Frank Clarke has said.

Mr Justice Clarke, who retired on October 10th, told an online seminar on the judicial conduct regime that he expects the full Judicial Council will vote on a set of ethical guidelines for the judiciary early next year.

A process whereby the members of the judiciary are being consulted on a draft set of guidelines is nearing completion, after which a final set of guidelines will be prepared by the council’s board.

The council, which was established in December 2019, comprises all of the State’s judges and Mr Justice Clarke said the final set of guidelines may be submitted for acceptance at its next annual meeting in February.

A judicial conduct committee, comprising the presidents of the five courts, three elected judges, and five lay members, has already devised the procedures that will be used by when the system goes live. This will require the Minister for Justice to commence the relevent parts of the Judicial Council Act after the ethical guidelines have been adopted by the judiciary.

Level of complaints

Staff have been employed by the council and it has “taken an educated guess” as to the likely level of complaints that the system will have to deal with, Mr Justice Clarke said, basing this on the experience of other jurisdictions.

The introduction of a judicial conduct regime was always seen as an important element of the council’s work and the issue of increasing, or maintaining, public confidence in the judiciary, he said.

The issues of consistency in sentencing, and the awarding of damages in personal injury cases, were both important factors in maintaining public confidence, he added. Both types of cases involved “converting severity into a number”, a process for which there was “no absolutely objective way of doing it”.

Mr Justice Clarke’s said the council’s introduction of training for judges, and roles in relation to judicial welfare and judicial conduct, were all important elements in maintaining confidence in the judiciary.

Welfare issues

Not every case of bad conduct by judges was due to bad training or judicial welfare issues, but some could be. It was hoped, he said, that the council’s work on training and welfare would result in fewer complaints “than would otherwise be the case”.

Mr Justice Clarke’s pre-recorded remarks were played to a seminar on judicial conduct organised by Dr Ronán Kennedy, of NUI Galway, and Dr Laura Cahillane, of the University of Limerick.

Raymond Byrne, adjunct full professor at the Sutherland law school at UCD, told the seminar that opinion polls showed that the Irish judiciary enjoyed a high level of trust, but that trust can be lost.

“Promoting excellence in judicial conduct, and not just reacting to judicial misconduct,” was “so important to promoting continued confidence in our independent judiciary,” he said.