O’Callaghan says FF would repeal Bill on appointing judges
Strong criticism of Bill by president of the High Court Mr Justice Peter Kelly
Jim O’Callaghan: “That is a deeply flawed piece of legislation, and it’s not just me that’s saying that”
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan says his party will repeal the forthcoming Judicial Appointments Commission Bill if it is elected to government.
He was commenting as controversy continued over the appointment of former attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal, and following strong criticism of the Bill by the president of the High Court Mr Justice Peter Kelly.
When asked on RTÉ on Sunday whether Fianna Fáíl would repeal the proposed Bill, Mr O’ Callaghan said: “I think so. I would repeal it. If we get into government after the next election and if this piece of legislation is in place and it is acting negatively – which I think it will do – we will repeal it.
“In terms of what we can do in the Oireachtas now, all we can do is vote against it and give our opinions as to why we are against it.”
Mr O’Callaghan told RTÉ’s This Week: “That is a deeply flawed piece of legislation and it’s not just me that’s saying that. The president of the High Court is reportedly saying its ill-judged and it’s been rushed so this Government needs to listen to other individuals.
“Part of the narrative from the Government this week is about that it respects the judiciary and what the judiciary has to say; it’s just steam-rolling through this legislation next week.
“We think it is a bad piece of legislation, and as an opposition party it’s our responsibility to oppose that.”
The Bill, which is the brainchild of Minister for Transport Shane Ross, will create a new body which will have with a majority of non-legal members, headed by a non-legal chair. It will select a ranked shortlist of candidates for the bench. The government will retain the final vote in the selection process.
Mr O’Callaghan said: “We have a judicial appointments advisory board and its function is to look at the suitability of candidates for judicial office. That’s there in statute.”
He said it should have been availed of in the case of Ms Whelan’s appointment but “it wasn’t; this is why we have a political controversy”.
“We know the judicial advisory board did not make any recommendations of individuals, and the reason they didn’t is that we believe they wanted a High Court judge nominated for the position,” Mr Callaghan said.
Speaking to the Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association on Friday evening, Mr Justice Kelly contrasted the speed of the Government’s action on the Bill compared with delays in the handling of other legislation, such as the payment of compensation in personal injury cases.
In language that took many of the dinner’s audience by surprise, he was severely critical of the reforms being championed by Mr Ross, saying that he frequently sees matters before him in court that would warrant higher priority.
Numerous sources at the dinner in a Dublin hotel told The Irish Times that Mr Justice Kelly said Mr Ross’s proposals were “ill-conceived” and “ill-advised”, and were being rushed through like emergency legislation.
One source present said Mr Justice Kelly was “pretty scathing” about the Judicial Appointments Bill, adding: “My jaw hit the floor. He didn’t mince his words.”