Many Irish judges do not feel respected by politicians, survey finds

Pension and pay cuts seen as attack on independence, according to EU-wide report

Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A quarter of Irish judges believe the Dáil does not respect their independence, a new report suggests.

The survey by the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary, which canvassed 60 of Ireland’s 168 judges, found 25 per cent feel changes to their pensions and pay in recent years have had an effect on their independence as judges.

The results reflect the row between government and the judiciary which began in 2009 when there was an attempt to cut judges’ pay and pensions following the economic crash.

In 2011, a referendum to allow the government reduce judges’ salaries passed with a huge majority, a development which was interpreted by many on the bench as an attack on their independence.

According to the report, Irish judges enjoy an above average level of independence. Most judges put their level of independence at nine or 10 on a 10-point scale. This places Ireland in the same category as the UK, the Netherlands and most of Scandinavia in terms of judicial independence. But the report notes that concerns around reduced pay rates “constitutes a problem”. Other countries where a large proportion of judges raised the issue include Latvia, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Slovenia and Lithuania.

The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary represents the interests of judges in EU member states.

Nearly a third of the Irish judges questioned indicated ability and experience are not always the most important factors in the judicial appointments process.

Respondents were asked how much they agree with the statement: “I believe judges in my country have been appointed other than on the basis of ability and experience during the last two years.”

Almost a third of the Irish judges also said they believe sitting judges were promoted to higher courts for reasons other than merit

In Ireland 30 per cent said they agree with this statement, while 48 per cent said they believe judges are appointed on merit. Another 22 per cent said they do not know.

In Denmark, just one per cent of judges said appointments are sometimes not made on merit. In Spain the figure is 64 per cent.

Almost a third of the Irish judges also said they believe sitting judges were promoted to higher courts for reasons other than merit.

When asked about bribes, all Irish respondents said they are sure judges in Ireland do not accept bribes.

Judges from Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK said the same. In Latvia, 30 per cent of judges said they are sure a colleague has accepted a bribe in the past two years.

Twenty five per cent of Irish judges said they are not respected by parliament and government compared to an EU-wide rate of 22 per cent.

Three of the 60 Irish judges said they occasionally or rarely feel under pressure to come to a certain decision. Two of these said this pressure came from the media and social media while one said it comes from Leinster House.

The figure was higher when they were asked about their colleagues. Six judges said they believe media or social media had influenced other judges’ decisions in the past two years.

Just under a third of the Irish judges feel the media does not respect their role, which is line with the EU average. The same is true for social media.