No new judges until law on appointments passes, says Ross

Independent Alliance minister also calls for declaration of interests for judges

There are currently three judicial vacancies; one at Supreme Court level and two at Circuit Court level. File photograph: Getty Images

There are currently three judicial vacancies; one at Supreme Court level and two at Circuit Court level. File photograph: Getty Images

 

No more judges will be appointed until the judicial appointments Bill has been passed, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said.

The Minister made the reform of judicial appointments a key element of the Independent Alliance agenda going into Government. He said new judges will have to be appointed under the promised legislation and that the old system was “an outlet for political patronage”.

“We have appointed the last judges under the old system,” he said.

There are currently three judicial vacancies; one at Supreme Court level and two at Circuit Court level.

Up until now, applicants for judicial appointment have applied to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board when a vacancy has arisen. The board then sent forward to government a list of all applicants deemed qualified for the post and the decision of who should be nominated for appointment rested with government.

The reformed system is expected to replace the board with a judicial appointments commission, with a lay majority and a lay chairperson. And it will recommend a maximum of three candidates for each post.

Mr Ross said the heads, or outline, of the judicial appointments Bill, into which he has “personal input”, will be produced before Christmas.

He described the legislation as one of the most important inputs of the Independent Alliance into the programme for government, and said it is now “extremely urgent”.

Welcome pressure

“The old system has now ended, so that in itself is a very welcome pressure which we put upon ourselves,” Mr Ross said.

He has also said legislation to establish a judicial council is a priority and there should be a declaration of interests for judges, the same as the register of interests for members of the Oireachtas.

“Equal accountability to what TDs and Senators have, I think that is a reasonable request,” he said.

On Sunday, Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham said the failure to establish a judicial council, which would provide a mechanism for investigating complaints about judicial conduct, facilitate communication between the judiciary and other branches of Government and provide education for judges, was affecting relations between the judiciary and the executive.

It was also affecting the State’s international reputation, she said.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, responding to those comments, said a Bill would be published in the coming session.

Mr Ross said he expected the heads of the judicial council Bill to be ready slightly before the judicial appointments Bill.

“They are both urgent at this stage, I think everybody recognises that. The Minister for Justice is absolutely ad idem with me on this,” he said.