Agreement over selection of chief justice came after representations from Ross
Cabinet sources say Government agreed to an ad hoc process after Minister intervened
Chief Justice Susan Denham: she retires next month after six years in the role, and 25 years as a judge of the Supreme Court. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The Government agreed to an ad hoc process for the selection of the next chief justice after representations from Minister for Transport Shane Ross, according to Cabinet sources.
The Department of Justice said on Tuesday the Cabinet had agreed that a three-person committee would consider candidates for the role, which becomes vacant next month when Chief Justice Susan Denham retires.
The committee will consist of Mr Justice Sean Ryan, president of the Court of Appeal; Attorney General Séamus Woulfe SC and Jane Williams, chairperson of the Top Level Appointments Committee, which selects candidate for senior public service jobs.
The Government spokesman said it would be up to the committee how many names it wished to pass on to the Government, but Opposition legal figures warned that any curtailing of the Government’s choice – should the committee only forward one name, for instance – would be unconstitutional.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it would be a matter for the committee.
Cabinet sources said the process was agreed after Mr Ross expressed his disappointment that the new judicial appointments legislation was delayed and would not be in place before Ms Justice Denham retires. The move to set up the process is likely to be seen in political circles as a sop to Mr Ross after his disappointment at the slow progress of the Judicial Appointments Bill.
But senior Government figures stressed that the decision on a new chief justice would be made by the Cabinet as a whole, following discussions among Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Attorney General.
However, it was unlikely that the process would conclude before Ms Justice Denham retires, the Government’s spokesman said last night.
The current chief justice will retire in August after six years in the role, and 25 years as a judge of the Supreme Court.
New legislation governing judicial appointments, which has been vigorously promoted Mr Ross, passed its second stage in the Dáil last week but will not become law until the autumn at the earliest.
Under the Constitution, it is the Government that nominates any judge for appointment by the President. However, there is no legal bar to the Government taking advice from any outside body on the nomination.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said: “The Government needs to clarify if it is asking the committee to nominate one candidate or three candidates as is envisaged by the Bill. If the Government is seeking only one name from the committee and has agreed to accept that name, then it is in danger of undermining the constitutional responsibility that rests on government to nominate a person to the office of Chief Justice.”