Planning tribunal judge promoted in new round of judicial appointments

Alan Mahon among seven judges named to fill key vacancies

Alan Mahon is among the seven judges who will fill key vacancies. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Alan Mahon is among the seven judges who will fill key vacancies. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

 

The judge who led the planning tribunal is to be promoted to the Court of Appeal after the cabinet moved to fill seven key judicial vacancies.

Circuit Court judge Alan Mahon will be joined on the new appeals court by High Court judge Garrett Sheehan, a former solicitor with a background in criminal law. The Cabinet had already selected seven other High Court judges for promotion to the new court.

At today’s Cabinet meeting, ministers also approved the nominations of five lawyers for appointment to the High Court. They are Circuit Court judges Tony Hunt and Margaret Heneghan, solicitors Bobby Eager and Donald Binchy and senior counsel Robert Haughton.
Mr Eager, of Sheehan and Partners Solicitors, is a well-known Dublin-based criminal law specialist, while Mr Binchy is a former president of the Law Society who practices in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. The Government announced the nominations this evening.

It is understood that more than 70 lawyers, half of them barristers, applied for the vacancies on the High Court and that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Boardrecommended at least 14 candidates to the Minister for Justice in mid-September.

In advance of today’s Cabinet meeting, Government sources were playing down the month-long delay in naming the new judges and denied that this was due to internal wrangling over individuals.

The process was interrupted last week when a senior counsel whose name was among those recommended to the Government by the advisory board withdrew his candidacy. The barrister said his decision related to work commitments and was not due to cuts to judicial salaries, which was cited as the reason for a similar last-minute withdrawal last year.

The senior counsel’s decision prompted the board, on the advice of Attorney General Máire Whelan, to reconvene last Friday to ensure the withdrawal did not present any technical obstacles to the nomination process.

Pressure had been mounting on the Government to move quickly on the nominations. Earlier this month, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said he was struggling to find judges for new cases due to the delay in filling the seven vacancies on his court. He said the delay left little time for training and induction for new arrivals and that forward planning in the High Court stopped at the end of October, as judges who were about to move to the Court of Appeal could not be assigned to long cases.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern on Monday said the delay meant there were no judges available to hear cases in the Commercial Court this week, the first time that has happened in the court’s ten-year history.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Justice Kearns welcomed the High Court nominations and said every effort could now be made to ensure “that the work programme and the scheduling of cases for the remainder of the legal term can proceed without interruption.”

The Law Society welcomed the nomination of two solicitors to the High Court, saying it would go some way to “correct the imbalance” of judicial appointments in the past. “Solicitors make up more than 80 per cent of the legal profession but, prior to this announcement, produced less than 8 per cent of the senior judicial appointments in the last 12 years,” said its director general, Ken Murphy.

“Solicitors offer a more diverse set of relevant legal skills, together with wider experience of law and of life. This is welcome news that is clearly in the public interest.”