Sinn Féin calls for wider input into judicial appointments

Party says victims of miscarriages of justice and other groups should be part of process

Photograph: Collins Courts.

Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

Sinn Féin would like to see people who have been the subject of miscarriages of justice having an input in the proposed new body for the appointment of judges.

The party says it wants a wider range of interests reflected in the new judicial appointments process and will be considering putting forward amendments to achieve this.

The support of Sinn Féin for the proposed new Judicial Appointments Commission will be required if the Bill is to be passed, as it is being opposed by Fianna Fáil.

Jonathan O’Brien, justice spokesman for Sinn Féin, said his party has no major amendments to propose to the Bill, which he said is to be passed before the end of next month.

However the party would like to see the views of voluntary and community groups, and people who had been wrongly convicted, being part of the process that leads to the selection of the lay members of the commission.

The Bill says the lay members of the proposed new body will be appointed by the Public Appointments Service having due regard to certain matters, such as the operation of the courts, human rights, corporate governance, and other areas. The Oireachtas has to approve lay appointments to the commission.

Mr O’Brien said his party would flag this week its interest in having a wider range of issues cited or involved in the selection process, and said it remained open as to how this could be achieved.

He said he thought that people who had “gone through the system, maybe people who have been the subject of miscarriages of justice, should be involved. Their experience could be invaluable”.

He would also like to see people from immigrant backgrounds and who worked with minority groups, with LGBT groups, and with ex-offenders or victims groups, having an input as well.

“It is important that as wide and broad a range of experience as possible is reflected” in the process that leads to the nomination of the members of the commission.

He said he would like to see these groups have an input so their views would end up being reflected in the membership of the commission.

Referendum

No matter what the shape of the final Bill, the appointment of judges will still remain with the Cabinet, for constitutional reasons. Mr O’Brien said he personally would be in favour of having a referendum so that the decision could be taken entirely out of the hands of politicians.

“Otherwise you’ll always have those who say someone was appointed because they knew someone, or because they were a member of a political party,” he said.

The Bill provides for a commission of 12 members, including the Chief Justice and the presidents of the other four courts.

There is to be no fewer than five men or five women members, and the bodies nominating non-judicial members must, among other matters, satisfy the government they have an “understanding of contemporary society and an appreciation of its cultural diversity”.