Further delay on new judicial appointments Bill

Shane Ross says he has ‘no problem’ with repeated delays

There has been a further delay in bringing forward legislation to reform the judicial appointments process, demanded by the Minister for Transport Shane Ross.

Last year, Mr Ross refused to agree to the appointment of any new judges until Fine Gael undertook to bring forward the legislation which will place the nomination of judges in the hands of an independent body with a non-legal chair.

Under an agreement with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, Mr Ross agreed to the appointment of a small number of judges on condition that the draft text of the Bill was brought forward by the end of January. In addition to the judges appointed then, the Government recently sanctioned two further appointments to the District Court.

Although Government had previously indicated it would be ready this week, the Bill is not now expected to come to Cabinet for approval for another fortnight. A draft of the Bill has been circulated for observations, which could take another two weeks, a spokeswoman for Mr Ross confirmed.


‘No problem’

The spokeswoman said Mr Ross had “no problem” with the delays, and was “perfectly happy with the progress of the Bill”.

Mr Ross expected the Bill to proceed in the coming weeks, she said.

But Government sources said the expected change in the leadership of Fine Gael was likely to further delay the process. With a new taoiseach and cabinet expected once Fine Gael changes its leader, there may be a new minister for justice and a new attorney general appointed in the coming weeks, sources pointed out.

There remains considerable opposition to the Bill within the Department of Justice and among the judiciary, The Irish Times understands. While arguing for the Bill, Mr Ross made a number of criticisms of judges, suggesting the appointments process needed to be removed from the influence of "insiders".

Fianna Fáil – which has produced its own legislation – is not expected to support the Bill, meaning the Government will have to secure the support of Opposition TDs if it is to be passed in the Dáil.

According to the "general scheme" or "heads" of the Bill – which lays out its general intentions, the legislation will replace the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a judicial appointments commission.

The proposed body will have a lay majority and chair, though it is proposed that the chief justice, the attorney general and either the president of the Court of Appeal or the High Court will represent the judiciary. There will be two practising lawyers and five lay members, including a representative of victims' rights and human rights groups, it is expected.

The judicial appointments commission will be asked to select three names for each vacancy on the bench, and their recommendations will be sent to cabinet for final approval.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times