Judiciary signals support for setting up judicial council

 

A WEEKEND meeting of the State’s judiciary has given its unanimous support for the setting up of a judicial council.

The way is now cleared for legislation setting up the council after the meeting endorsed the draft heads of a judicial council Bill.

The judicial council would hold the judiciary to account.

The Bill was discussed at a general meeting of the State’s judges on Saturday, which also heard Marilyn King, registrar of the Ontario judicial council, describe how its council worked in that jurisdiction.

Following the meeting the Chief Justice, Mr Justice John Murray, issued a statement saying that the judiciary had welcomed and approved the draft, adding it hoped “it can now be progressed further by the Government”.

He said the judiciary considered it essential – before the part of the Bill providing for complaints against the judiciary in a courtroom setting was brought into force – that the Courts Service project for a digital audio recording system be fully operational. This system will record all court proceedings. This had been accepted by the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform, the statement added.

“The Chief Justice added that there will be continuing discussions and exchanges with the department on the detail of the Bill, which should facilitate its drafting and progress towards enactment,” the statement noted.

The Bill will establish a judicial council that will have responsibility for judicial standards and conduct, and will set up a complaints and disciplinary procedure for judges. The council will have lay representation, but a majority of its members will be judges, in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

The proposal for such a council was first made in a report from then chief justice Mr Justice Ronan Keane, drawn up by a committee which included Supreme Court judge Mrs Justice Denham, over a decade ago.

Discussing the need for such a body at the time, Mrs Justice Denham said that most countries with a common law system, including Ireland, had provision for parliament to consider the impeachment of a judge when an issue of serious judicial misconduct arose. However, there was less provision for dealing with lesser complaints and this was being addressed in most common law countries. She pointed to the judicial council of Canada and the judicial commission of New South Wales as examples of such bodies.

The momentum towards bringing a judicial council into existence was interrupted in 2004 by the controversy surrounding the charging of Circuit Court judge Brian Curtin with possession of child pornography.

He was acquitted by direction of the trial judge because of a defect in the warrant, and the Oireachtas then moved to impeach him. He eventually resigned on health grounds in 2006. The issue of a judicial council has been in discussion among the judiciary and between the judiciary and the Department of Justice since.

Now that a draft Bill has been approved by the judiciary, the Minister for Justice can bring a memorandum to Government and, following its approval, move to drafting the final form of the Bill. It will then have to be fitted in to the legislative programme.